All of us lead two parallel lives: the life we actually live and the one that we wish for and fantasise about. And this life unlived (the one that never actually happens, the one we might be living but for some reason are not) can occupy an extraordinary part of our mental life. We share our lives, in a sense, with the people we have failed to be - and this can become itself the story of our lives: an elegy to needs unmet, desires sacrificed and roads untaken.
We quickly notice as children that our needs, like our wishes, are often unmet. And we begin then to learn to live somewhere between the lives we have and the lives we would like. We become haunted by the myth of our own potential, of what we might have it in ourselves to be or to do. And this can make of our lives a perpetual falling short - a failure to live the good life that we are told is one lived to the full.
In this elegant, compassionate and absorbing book, acclaimed psychoanalyst Adam Phillips demonstrates that there might in fact be much to be said for the unlived life. Drawing deeply on the works of Shakespeare and of Freud, amongst other writers and thinkers, he suggests that in missing out on one experience we always open ourselves to the potential of another, and that in depriving ourselves of the frustration of not getting what we think we want, we would be depriving ourselves of the possibilities of satisfaction.
The experiences described in this wise and witty book - missing out, getting away with it, getting out of it and not getting it - are all chapters in our unlived lives and as Adam Phillips suggests they may in fact be essential to a life fully lived.