Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date: January 9th 2018
Chloe Benjamin swings for the fences with the concept of her new novel: how would you live your life if you knew the date of your death? The Immortalists is about four siblings: Varya, Daniel, Klara, and Simon, who visit a psychic when they are children and are, one by one, in private, told the day they’re going to die. They never share these dates with each other, but the impact of the knowledge is the novel’s driving force. As are their choices in dealing with that knowledge.
Benjamin tells the siblings’ stories in a linear fashion beginning in the late 1970s, when Klara and Simon, shortly after their father dies, abruptly move to San Francisco. For Simon, it is the chance to realize what he has always known and embrace his sexuality as a gay man. For Klara, the city is her entry into her own obsession: magic. It is a hard life for both, but they live fully and in the moment. It is the most vibrant time in the novel even if it ends in sadness, when Simon dies at age 20. Klara struggles with his death, wondering if she played any part in it, even as her own career takes off, leading her to Las Vegas. In contrast to their younger siblings, the lives of Varya and Daniel are quieter. They pursue careers in science and medicine, shoulder the responsibility for their mother’s care, and seem to have forgotten what the gypsy told them.
For a novel that cuts to the core of life (when it will end), The Immortalists feels bloodless. The Golds are not a close family and split rather predictably between the wild, younger two and more responsible, older two. After Klara and Simon leave they are never all together again. When they do interact, it is with virtually no insight or understanding to each other. There are secrets and powerful choices throughout the novel, but while I appreciated Benjamin’s prose, it never forged a connection.
At the very least, the premise of The Immortalists makes it a natural for book clubs or any kind of discussion because, just as it goes for the Gold siblings, everyone has a different take on being told when they’ll die. It may be that, given such a momentous theme, I expected too much from the novel. Instead, it left me feeling me feeling empty—not drained, which would be a good thing, but without emotion, unaffected. I was not able to reach into Simon, Klara, Daniel and Varya’s stories nor did they reach out to me.
Ann Marie says
I seem to have enjoyed this book a bit more than you but I very much understand where you’re coming from. I enjoyed the first half of the book more than the last half. I also agree that this one would be good for discussion even if everyone isn’t in love with it.
Based on how many readers I know who loved the book I decided to add it to my It’s Not You It’s Me post. Somehow, it missed the mark but most people really loved it. That’s what’s so great about books- room for everyone!
Susie | Novel Visits says
I have The Immortalists review up today, too! Great minds….
I definitely liked the book more than you. I agree that it was a little bloodless (especially Daniel), but still enjoyed their overall stories. To me the disconnection was part of what Benjamin wanted in her story. More of a 4 star read for me.
I loved your review- it’s what made me think it wasn’t the right book for me, but was great so most everyone else. It happens, right?!
I loved this one, though I completely understand your points. The older siblings paled in compare to the younger in my mind, but I was so all-in by the time Simon was settled in San Francisco in the 70s and 80s that it would have taken much more than what went down with Daniel and Varya to lose me. I grew up there in that time, so it was a magical read on that front. I didn’t feel connected to them, per se, but did feel invested, which it sounds like you were not.
Both you and Susie loving this book made me add it to today’s post! I really think it was mostly me who didn’t get it.
And I was so rude I totally forgot to thank you for the link. Thank you. I don’t think you didn’t get it, I think it may be one of those stories where the writing either captures you and holds you through the “weaker” parts or does not. And talking books with someone who holds a disparate view is much more interesting anyway. 🙂
You’re welcome! I love disucssing books and alternate opinions. One of the few places left where you can feel strongly about something, argue about it and no one gets hurt.
What a great perspective, Catherine (not surprising, because you always seem to have such great insight!); empty, not drained, is a good way to describe it. I really love her writing and felt very invested in the story and characters through the Simon and Klara portions…and then became rather disenchanted. Your comments help me realize that I, too, think I was expecting something extraordinary from this story line and it wasn’t there.
I went back and added this to my It’s You It’s Me post today after a conversation with my husband about the book (not that he read it!). His take on the actions of Klara and Daniel was so startling that it made me think I missed something. At the very least, it’s a conversation generator!
Well now I want to talk to your husband!
Ha! He’s very pragmatic and cerebral so his take was something along the lines of Klara realizing things would have gone the way they did no matter what so she’s wasted years…I don’t know. It just made me realize we all look at life-death in very different ways.
I just listened to the author on the Just the Right Book podcast and it sounded interesting, but I think my interest is tempered by your review. I’ll probably still stick it on my wishlist in case it goes on sale, but I probably won’t seek it out.
I know so many bloggers who loved it so don’t write it off completely. I just didn’t feel anything from it.