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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9 Comments

  1. Lisa Hill says:

    It’s a creepy idea. I’ve always thought that one of the most cruel aspects of capital punishment is that the condemned know exactly when they’re going to die. If I believed for one moment that a fortune teller could indeed predict the future, I would want to have my fortune told, that’s for sure!

    1. Jackie says:

      Lisa, It’s such an interesting question! I think the problem is that I’d only want to know if it was good news. If I was going to die soon then I wouldn’t want to know, but if I was going to make it to 103 then I would! The book isn’t perfect, but it raises loads of issues to think about.

  2. Amy Brandon says:

    I bought this one on a whim about a month ago but still haven’t been able to get into it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did!

  3. Diane says:

    Jackie, I’ve been waiting for my turn at the library for this book. When I saw you mention, A Little Life, an all time favorite book, it made me want to read it all the more. I hope you and your family have been doing well.

    1. Jackie says:

      Diane, This isn’t in the same league as ‘A Little Life’ but the similarities in style will mean you’re sure to enjoy it. I look forward to reading your review!

  4. I felt pretty much the same about this one! I agree that the second half lacked the energy of the first, but I ended up enjoying the book as a whole much more than I’d expected to.

    1. Jackie says:

      Laura, I think the problem is that the beginning was so good. If the ending had been as good as the beginning then I’d have finished the book being a lot more satisfied. Such a shame as it had the potential to be amazing.

  5. That does get you thinking! I enjoy stories that engage you with a variety of characters and, simultaneously, give you personally something to contemplate as well. That takes some planning and forethought on the writer’s part.

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