contemporary, review

Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Sometimes I get in the mood to specifically read a hardback book. Majority of the books I own are paperbacks, and I prefer to read a paperback book, but I have collected a fair amount of hardbacks in the past few years. Usually that means these books are gifts, highly anticipated so I couldn’t wait until the paperbacks or special editions. In this case, The Immortalists was slightly damaged and therefore available at half price a couple years ago so I snatched it up as I’d been intrigued by the plot.

In The Immortalists, four siblings visit a fortune teller in their teens and each finds out the date of their death. We then follow theses siblings throughout their lives to see how knowing the date of their death affects them. We start with the sibling whose date is first, Simon. Simon moves out to the West coast to try and find himself a new life.

And I’m not going to tell you any more, because that’s one sentence more than I knew and I absolutely loved the experience of discovering this book along the way. Chloe Benjamin carefully builds Simon up for you so he feels so perfectly real and tangible, and through Simon you get to know the next sibling. It means the book has an organic flow through these characters lives. As siblings they are forever connected but often distant, so your time with each of them stands clearly on its own and bears its own footprint.

“She knows that stories have the power to change things: the past and the future, even the present.”

I couldn’t definitely say which character was my favourite as they all connected with my in a different way, they’re incomparable. I think I was probably the most emotionally connected to Simon and Varya.

Benjamin’s writing was another selling point of the book. When some stories are “overwritten” to be poetic and lush it’s often hit or miss for me. In a fantasy novel set in a fairy tale location it can suit the story, but sometimes if the story doesn’t call for that writing style they can feel horribly mismatched. I found that Benjamin straddled the line between lush writing and keeping a contemporary feel to the novel. Her characters and settings didn’t get drowned by overly descriptive prose. I found there were even moments where I stopped to enjoy the way the writing had really added to the particular moment I was reading.

The two covers for the book I have found, shown above, do not really give me a clear impression of the story contained within. I think this is indicative of a larger problem of The Immortalists, because while I loved the writing and was happy to go along with the ride, it does not feel like it has any momentum or direction for the most of the book.

“When Klara plucks a coin from inside someone’s ear or turns a ball into a lemon, she hopes not to deceive but to impart a different kind of knowledge, an expanded sense of possibility. The point is not to negate reality, but to peel back its scrim, revealing reality’s peculiarities and contradictions. The very best magic tricks, the kind Klara wants to perform, do not subtract from reality. They add.”

This book has a few flaws, and one that stood out to me was the hyper focus on Simon’s sex life. Simon is gay and I found that we focused on his sexuality for a really large portion of his section of the story. We did explore more outside of that, but if you were to summarise his story it’d sound like a cliche. This is mixed in with some other weird moments – in the opening paragraph of the book Varya is introduced to us while simultaneously mentioning her pubic hair. Surely there was a different way to shoehorn in that Varya was in her early teen years?

This is a growing problem I am discovering in literary fiction, sometimes to make a book feel raw and realistic the author will default to using teenage characters discovering sex or their bodies. This does make the book feel visceral, but it also makes me feel uncomfortable and reduces my enjoyment of the novel.

Overall, even though it goes against the general opinions of my friends on Goodreads I’d live this book a 3.75 stars. The writing really does make that much of a difference in my case. I would describe this as a literary fiction character study as it really is a slow burn.

Have you read The Immortalists or any other books by Chloe Benjamin? Let me know what you thought in the comments.

1 thought on “Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin”

  1. Really cool sounding concept for a book, I don’t tend to read literary fiction but this sounds like it’d be a really interesting read. If it had been a bit longer, it would’ve been a prefect Tome Topple pick for me.

    Liked by 1 person

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