[These Possible Lives] demonstrate[s] her ongoing nihilistic streak, her penchant for nothing ... Jaeggy is a master of the short form; her essays are charged with a nearly combustible vitality ... Long after the pleasure of reading is over, their little hooks tug ... vibrant and unforced, shimmering with the complexity of reality. As in Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, the juxtaposition of the biographies accentuates their common characteristics, and from this triptych a survey of genius, mysticism and intoxication emerges.
Enigmatic narratives in which lives do not emerge or elapse with biographical regularity, but instead emanate and hover, swing like ballasts, and collide in the margins and gutters. This is the space of Fleur Jaeggy’s These Possible Lives, three spare and telegraphic essays about Thomas De Quincey, John Keats, and Marcel Schwob, in which each account is self-contained and exquisitely precise, capturing the arc of a whole life with filigreed economy ... Figures — peers, foes, lovers, family members — come and go with indeterminate immediacy, lingering in brief and vivid portraits haunted by peculiar details ... The essay itself becomes a form of possibility ... Jaeggy includes many details of the lives in question that would be familiar to most readers — from childhood beginnings, to furiously productive interior lives, and, finally, to haunting scenes of death ... Jaeggy’s essays possess the cool, inevitable horror of fairy tales.
These are haunting books, both with narrators struggling to retrieve a past that exists only in their memory and through notes and photographs ... they depict the mind in a holding pattern, circling around subjects that, being absent, can never be reached ... That same abyss is visited with a lighter heart and more graceful wit in These Possible Lives, a collection of three biographical essays, lyrically translated by Minna Zallman Proctor ... Brilliant, associative and short, Jaeggy’s essays have the beauty and economy of poems but the souls of portraits.