Literary Fiction

The Possible World – Liese O’Halloran Schwarz

5 August 2018
The Possible World Book Cover The Possible World
Liese Schwarz
July 12, 2018

'Every now and then I come across a book I wish I'd written. The Possible World is one of those... A gorgeously wrought exploration of who gets to tell the story of our lives, and who gets to inhabit that story with us' Jodi Picoult Ben is the sole survivor of a crime that claims his mother and countless others. He is just six years old, and already he must find a new place for himself in the world. Lucy, the doctor who tends to Ben, is grappling with a personal upheaval of her own. She feels a profound connection to the little boy who has lived through the unthinkable. Will recovering his memory heal him, or damage him further? Clare has long believed that the lifetime of secrets she's been keeping don't matter to anyone anymore, until an unexpected encounter prompts her to tell her story. As they each struggle to confront the events - past and present - that have defined their lives, something stronger than fate is working to bring them together...


The Possible World is a beautiful, fascinating book with 3 characters and their poignant absorbing stories. The novel is narrated chapter by chapter from the perspective of Ben/Leo, Clare and Lucy. If you were to imagine 3 situations and characters that could provide such depth and emotional connection, you would be hard-pressed to choose beyond the personal stories in this novel.

Ben is a young 6-year-old boy who is the only survivor at a children’s birthday party where a killer has slaughtered Mums and children alike. Immediately our own minds wonder what traumatic impact that would have on a young child, which is reinforced through wonderful writing to underpin the gut-wrenching anguish. As a consequence, he suffers from Post Traumatic Amnesia, and informs the doctors and police his name is Leo.

“No one has told me what’s wrong with me, but it must have something to do with the emptiness in my memory. I know that it should be different, that there should be a long story like a book I’m in the middle of, with pictures and words filling the pages. When they ask me to open the book of my story, every page is blank.”

Lucy is a doctor working in a hospital emergency department and she’s dealing with Leo along with other critical trauma cases. The range of emotions an ED doctor must face on a daily basis are enormous and the constant awareness of getting close to the patients while remaining slightly aloof are a challenge. So what happens when a young innocent boy comes in, covered in his mother’s and friends blood having witnessed multiple murders, and you need to keep your shit together to provide professional assistance? Lucy remembers the saying ‘You have to love medicine – it won’t love you back.’ I loved the medical terminology having worked around healthcare for a long time and it is very interesting listening to the language and processes clinical staff engage in during diagnosis and treatment. It is not surprising that Liese O’Halloran Schwarz was a medical doctor working in an Emergency Department, but she doesn’t overindulge the clinical terminology and maintains an engaging flow.

Clare is nearing her 100th birthday and is living in a nursing home. Her days are spent alone trying not to engage with others and while her mind seems quite sharp she remains quiet, creating a belief she has dementia or depression. A faltering relationship with Gloria whom early on Clare reminds her that “‘This is the place you’ve come to die’ I can feel the air go still before my next word. ‘Alone.’” The developing friendship with Gloria gives rise to the opportunity for Clare to tell her story.

There is a pervasive sense of anxiety and frustration with each character as they navigate the personal and professional challenges they face. Each story is destined to come together in a surprising way but how that is achieved is through great story-telling. The only issue I would have is that the pace slackened at times particularly in the middle of the book.

This is a special captivating book exploring deep and really heartbreaking stories. I would like to thank Random House UK, Cornerstone and NetGalley, for an ARC version of the book in return for an honest review.

Peter Donnelly

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley

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