Saturday, January 27, 2018

Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists
by |Chloe Benjamin
Release Date: January 9th, 2018
2018 G.P. Putnam's Sons
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0735213180
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Literary
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 Stars

If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

It's 1969 in New York City's Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

Their prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in '80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

My Thoughts
The Immortalists is one of those books where I really liked the concept / idea, but have really mixed feelings due to the fact I thought the story line felt a bit preachy and other than one story, I really couldn't get into the life of the other three siblings. 

First of all, I really thought the concept was neat although it certainly has been done before.  This one focuses on the lives of four siblings who decide to visit a fortune teller in order to find out their futures and are told the day they will die. The idea behind the book is to tell their stories and how knowing the date of their deaths would shape their future lives and how it affects their relationships.  I thought it would be interesting to see how the family dynamics change over the years having this knowledge, and how each of the siblings would react.  I really enjoy stories about families and their dynamics so I thought this would be interesting.  I was somewhat wrong on that account.

Simon's story was by far the most interesting, and I am so glad the author started with him as I don't think I would have finished the book otherwise.  He was a rather interesting and intriguing character, and despite the wildness in him, I found him to be endearing.  Simon ran off to late seventies San Francisco to join in on the gay scene, and although there was very little interaction between the family member, I did enjoy his story and the secondary characters that were introduced, some of whom we'd see later on in other story lines.  What I did find disappointing was the lack of family interaction so we don't really know how Simon's story really affected his family as they weren't really there, except for Klara.  I did find the whole AIDS scare to be quite fascinating as I am old enough to remember when the disease became a news sensation and the affect it had on entire communities.  I think I was in grade 8 when AIDS became part of our health curriculum so as I was reading, I was reflecting back on that time period and how scary news of the disease was to many people. I wish more of that has been discussed in this novel, and I think that's part of the problem; too many interesting things were just glossed over and you never could really empathize with the characters to the point that was needed.

As for the stories of the other siblings, Klara, Daniel, and Varya, I found I couldn't really empathize with any of them, especially Daniel.  Except for Varya's research with the monkeys, I didn't find any of their stories interesting, and there really wasn't a lot of discussion about the impact Simon's death had on the others, except for passing remarks about police investigations and so on.  I would have liked to have seen a bit more in-depth study of the family members and what they really thought and felt.  Varya's research into longevity was probably the closest the author came to really exploring the impact that knowing their time of death had on them.  She was obsessive, having been diagnosed with OCD, and I would have liked a bit more exploration into that theme.  

I am not opposed to sex in novels, but it was the use that turned me off in this one, mentioning sexual stuff in the middle of scenes that had nothing to do with sex, and in descriptions of people.  Really?  There couldn't be a better way of describing someone, such as Varya in the first paragraph of the novel having a "dark patch of fur between her legs", made me wonder what the rest of the book was like.  The sex scenes were fine, it was just how it was sometimes thrown in a scene in order to show sexual feelings between people, and I don't think it quite worked out the way the author intended.

While The Immortalists wasn't for me, I definitely think you should read this one and decide for yourself as you may get something out of it that I did not.  I really think the overall message was good: reaching out to people, especially family members, even if you are angry or upset is immensely important as well as helping them when needed.  That way, when something terrible does happen, you don't live with regrets for the rest of your life.  And while I think the author was trying to convey this, I don't quite think she succeeded in the way she meant.  I really feel the author missed an amazing opportunity to really explore fate and family dynamics, but in the end I thought the story was interesting but also boring.  Obviously, this book wasn't meant for me and many people seem to have adored it, so read it yourself and see what you think.


  1. The concept sounds interesting, but the execution doesn't feel right. Good review.