Book reviews · Books (general)

“The Possible World” by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz (review)

I had not heard of Liese before this book and was intrigued to discover this novel was published nearly 30 years after her first one.

“The Possible World” focuses on 3 characters-Ben, Clare and Lucy. The novel starts off with a shocking and violent event, viewed from the eyes of a little boy, Ben. His final moments with his mother are heartbreaking and you get the sense as you are reading that things will not end well.

The storyline then goes into the aftermath of that event, bringing in the ER doctor Lucy, who treats Ben. Her overwhelming and relentless job is described in snippets throughout the whole book, bringing home the reality of a what a doctor in that situation has to deal with everyday. She comes across countless tragic circumstances with her patients and I found some of those scenarios so difficult to read as they are happening in hospitals around the world every day.

The connection between Lucy and Ben is instantaneous and for some reason, amongst all those patients she sees, Ben will not leave her. This sets off a chain of events in Ben’s journey of remembering what happened to him.

We are then introduced to Clare who seems to be hiding away in a care home for the elderly, isolating herself and appearing not to remember her past. Her story starts to unravel and we go back to the time of ‘The Great Depression’ and her childhood and slowly discover her past.

As a mother, I found parts of this story to be incredibly moving and heartbreaking. A mother’s love for her children is explored in many different ways- not just in blood relationships but beyond that too. The contrast of one mother seemingly abandoning her child to another’s searing pain at the death of hers, is really well illustrated by Liese. Overwhelmingly the power of a mother’s love resonates throughout.

The point of view of six year old Ben is also written well and you can sense how weird and strange he is finding the whole situation where professionals are trying to help and piece together what happened, but doing it all wrong. He is a very endearing little boy and as he starts to remember the past, the empathy and vulnerability you feel for his child-like innocence is so strong. I challenge you not to be moved!

Similarly Clare and Lucy have not had it easy and issues of abusive marriage, divorce, deaths of loved ones and heartbreak are all covered in their journeys. Again you are drawn into their hurts and the secrets of their past so much, that you feel a love growing for them as each piece unfolds. Issues of organised religion and faith in God are very much a part of Clare’s story and this was challenging to read.

As the book goes on and these lives continue to interweave until the breath-taking climax, I was more and more hooked until I just couldn’t put this down. The conclusion though not necessarily cut and dry is beautifully written and does this wonderful story the justice it deserves.

This wasn’t an easy read by any means, but an important one and such a well written tale. The characters’ lives become so important and their stories hit you where it hurts. The imagination of Liese in writing this emotional and brilliant read is to be commended.

It is moving and powerful and I just can’t stop thinking about it. As Jodi Picoult has said- “Every now and then I come across a book I wish I’d written. The Possible World is one of those…”.

You can’t get higher praise than that!

“The Possible World” was published last month by Penguin and you can find out more here.

Until next time,


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