Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Title: The Immortalists
Author: Chloe Benjamin
Pages: 352
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Free ARC from G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Rating: 4.5 stars

Note: As stated under the Source (above), I received this book for free from G.P. Putnam’s Sons via NetGalley/Edelweiss. I pride myself on writing fair and honest reviews.

Summary: One day, Daniel Gold overhears a couple of other boys talking about a strange woman who can tell you the date of your death. She relocates frequently, advertises nowhere, and can only be discovered through word of mouth. Driven by the mystery of it all, Daniel compels his brothers and sisters – Varya, Klara, and little Simon – to join him in the pursuit of this woman. When they do find her, they each get an answer to that burning question – when will I die? Now what will they do with the information? Will their lives be transformed? Is it even true?

Review: There is so much to say about this book, I hardly know where to begin. The base premise of the book – if you thought you knew the date of your death, how would it affect the way you lived? – is captivating and a little terrifying. Would you even want to know? Could knowing (or thinking that you knew) actually make the prediction come true? Would the answer free you or imprison you? All of these questions are explored through the lives of each of the four children, the book broken into each of their individual stories.

The first is about Simon. Poor, dear, beautiful, tragic Simon. His story brought me to tears at the end. I’d love to dig deep here, but I don’t want to give anything away. I only have two things to say. The first is that the sex scenes which seem to have offended some people, while shocking to some, are probably also greatly misunderstood. They were not gratuitous, they were telling. If you read all of Simon’s story, if you consider them in context of his whole life, you might realize they serve a purpose. There are no other scenes like it in the book. The second thing is, I loved Simon. I’ve known many Simon’s and loved them dearly, so his pain was particularly visceral for me.

The second story is about Klara. Not my favorite story of the four (that would be Simon’s), but I liked Klara, loved her spunk and daring, her determination to answer what called to her. But truthfully, I love stories about real magic (wizards and witches and faeries and goblins and dragons), but I have a strong distaste of fake magic, shows like Penn & Teller. Klara’s love for that kind of life didn’t appeal to me, and probably prevented a deeper connection on my part. And while I respected the hell out of her dogged pursuit of that life, there are so many choices she made that I didn’t understand, in particular her choice in partner (business and romantic), and more importantly, her ending. There was nothing in the story that led me to believe that is where she was headed, which made it less than believable for me.

Daniel’s story comes next, and I’ll admit, I liked him least of all. There were moments when I empathized with him, where I could see the defense mechanisms he put up, but he was the most distanced from his siblings, the most selfish, the most hypocritical, the most arrogant. And yet he had this amazing wife, a happy marriage, and for a moment, we get to see his desire to be closer to his family. While there were blatant indications of what was to come, it was also a bit difficult to believe. How very un-Daniel of him. But maybe that’s the point. Fearing your impending death, as the date creeps closer, leaves you with little to lose, I suppose.

And finally, Varya. Oh, Varya. You were so very difficult to love. Given all that you lost, empathy should have been seeping from my pores, but you were a tough nut to crack. Eventually, I understood better, though I didn’t like you a lot better. But in the end, I cried the most for you.

This was a solid 4.5 stars for me. Such a unique story, and a fascinating exploration of the provocative question: what would you do if you knew when you were going to die? A book I’ll buy for my collection because I loved it.

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