Book Review: The Immortalists

The ImmortalistsThe Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a group of siblings finds out the day they’re each going to die, it has an interesting effect on how they each live their life. Will they live it to the fullest? Or will they become overly cautious and not live at all? The book discusses these ideas as we follow each sibling up until their death, and then switch character perspectives to follow the next in line to die.

When I first picked up the book, I was interested in the premise, but not sure if I would enjoy it all that much. While I did enjoy it a great deal, it wasn’t the wow that I was expecting based on some of the reviews I’d seen prior to picking it up.

One review, in particular, however, pointed out that the most exciting stories were the first two, the stories of the ones who died first, and I must say I agree with it.

Fair warning: beyond this point are some very vague spoilers. 

spoilers3

As I read the story of the first sibling to die, I found myself fascinated by his personality and the reckless decisions he made. The question of whether or not knowing when he was going to die helped to shape him or whether it convinced him to make decisions that ultimately caused his death was one that I was particularly interested in.

With the next one, seeing her feelings about the death of the first, knowing that the prophecy was true, and seeing them interact with similar characters and go through life with similarly reckless attitudes made me wonder whether or not we would get an answer about the magic/mysticism behind the prophecy or whether it was all coincidence. My brain was working over time.

I’d had to put the book down for about a week or two while doing the last of summer family thing, so as I was reading the second sibling’s story, when a name would come up that seemed familiar, I’d have to go back and see if I was remembering the character correctly from before. The reoccurring characters made me wonder if there was more to the story.

Then when some of those same characters came up again in the third sibling’s story, I was sure there was more to what was going on. Maybe it wasn’t coincidence. Maybe the book was trying to make me think about fate and karma and all those metaphysical ideas that we try to push into the background as we go through our everyday lives. I became more focused on trying to determine what was the message of the book the deeper into the psyche of the characters it went.

I became convinced this book was particularly deep when I realized I couldn’t tell how reliable the narrators were. With the second sibling, there was a scene in which she seemingly had mastered the magic of transfiguration, but as there wasn’t much paranormal about the story (other than the psychic in the beginning), I was sure it was a sign of her deteriorating mental state. But then, in the third sibling’s tale, we find evidence of her seemingly magical act.

I had so many questions that I wanted and needed answered by the time I got to the fourth sibling, that I was staying up into the wee hours of the night to finish. Unfortunately, here is where the book goes from masterpiece to just ok.

The fourth sibling was so disconnected from the others, that her story should have almost been a completely separate book. All those questions that had been set up by the stories of the previous three siblings, and all the connections between them, even though they were years and years apart, never came to fruition with the final character. Or at least not to my understanding of how it went.

A simple bit of advice from the mother was given as a way to explain it all away. In my mind, that’s a bit of a cheater’s way out. The last sibling’s story was fascinating in its own right, but seemed so distant from the other three, that it was a shock to my mental system, and not in a good way.

In the end, I liked the book well enough to suggest it to others, but I was extremely let down by the ending. I hope it was simply something that I missed, but I’m afraid that the last sibling’s story was meant to drag the reader back to reality and to say that all the fantastical elements were really only fantasies in each of the previous sibling’s minds. If I’m right, what a letdown.

There were, however, quite a few things I really enjoyed from an English teacher standpoint.

The thing I enjoyed the most? Each of the characters’ individual stories was written in a strong enough voice that I could tell I’d completely shifted into another person’s story. That is not an easy to thing to accomplish. As I said, it made me really question the reliability of the narrator at different points, and it aided in the mystery.

I also appreciated how it showed previous decades and the differences between East Coast and West Coast. When we shifted to a new location and a new time, I could recognize where and when we were based on the descriptions of things, people, outfits, and other such details. I could even tell the age of the characters based on how they interacted with things, such as technology! Again, this is not easily done.

There is no doubt that this was written extremely well, and it deserves great praise for the skill involved. If that last sibling had simply delivered on the promises of the previous three, I’d have given this book 5 stars. As it is, I feel cheated by the last sibling. This book went from a mild thriller asking me, the reader, to uncover the mystery of a psychic’s prophesy, to one of those French slice-of-life stories. Both are good on their own, but they don’t work particularly well together.

View all my reviews

About Elizabeth

First and foremost I am a teacher. What I teach is a blend of grammatical art, literary love, and a smidge of spiritual awareness. My blog tries to combine the best of all three over a cup of tea.

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