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The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists: The New York Times Top Ten Bestseller Source: Free review copy received from the publisher

Five words from the blurb: fortune-teller, predicts, death, live, knowledge

The Immortalists is an interesting book which raises questions about how people live their lives. It begins with a group of siblings meeting a fortune-teller who reveals the date on which each will die. The knowledge of their death-date affects them in different ways – some follow their dreams at every opportunity, taking risky decisions in the knowledge they’ll be safe; whilst others try to ignore their death date and carry on as normal. It all boils down to the question of whether it is better to have a short, amazing life or a longer more ordinary one.

Much of the book is rich in period detail; showing life in the 1980s Los Angeles gay community; the glitzy glamour of Las Vegas performers; and the technical studies of a scientific researcher. Unfortunately, Chloe Benjamin seems much more capable of capturing the emotions of the LGBT community than the scientific one. I found that the scientific sections lacked the strength of the others. Luckily, the vibrant scenes were in the majority and I’m sure that non-scientists will not detect the issues with the other sections.

The writing reminded me of Hanya Yanagihara and I’m sure that anyone who loved A Little Life will enjoy The Immortalists. There was a simplicity to the writing that heightened its power:

All the while, something loomed larger, closer, until Simon was forced to see it in all its terrible majesty: his future.

Unfortunately, the plot falls down as the book continues. Much of it felt contrived and the last third lost the momentum and intrigue of the earlier sections. This doesn’t mean that the book isn’t worth reading – the range of characters and personalities were impressive.

The Immortalists has an amazing premise and its faults actually make it better for book club discussions. It’s not perfect, but I’ll be thinking about this group of siblings for a long time to come.

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