Book Review: 'The Immortalists' by Chloe Benjamin
I was drawn to The Immortalists because of the beautiful cover and a good review on Goodreads. On one hand, I could barely put this book down. It was interesting and I found myself invested in the fates of each character. On the other hand, every character was just unlikeable enough that I didn't really care what happened to them in the end.
The main premise of The Immortalists is that four siblings, Varya, Daniel, Klara, and Simon, meet a fortune teller who tells each of them, separately, the exact days they will die. After this first chapter, the book is divided into four sections, which follows each sibling as they approach their expiration dates.
As I mentioned earlier, I didn't find any of the characters sympathetic, and much of what drove my enthusiasm for this book was seeing how the deaths played out. Each main character came across as extremely selfish and unlikeable. Perhaps this is partially due to their date coming close, but even when their stories start years in advance, they still come across as awful people.
Some of the secondary characters were more interesting than the main characters, namely Robert, Raj, and Ruby. I would gladly read a spinoff novel with Raj and Ruby. It almost feels like the secondary characters, the ones who don't know their dates of death, have more life, more personality, than the ones that do.
The exception to this is the cop-turned-FBI agent character, who exists as a creepy, stalker-ish MacGuffin simply to connect the deaths, and then to rip away the mystery of the fortune teller. Then, he vanishes almost completely from the last quarter of the book. Any time that character, Eddie, appeared, I hated it.
While I found my fondness for each child decreasing as I read their stories, I gained more fondness for their mother, Gertie. At first, Gertie came across as overbearing, self-absorbed, and needy. However, by the end of the book, I found myself hoping that she would not outlive all of her children. Maybe my favorite part of the book is when she berates Varya for believing in the fortune teller, and when Varya counters with Gertie's reliance on religion, Gertie explains that she raised her children to be smarter than her, and to not fall for superstition.
The Immortalists is a weird book. It has small moments where it really shines, but taken as a whole, it's just kind of ok. The premise of the book is fantastic, and the main themes of magic, illusion, and religion are compelling, but I wasn't moved. However, I was moved enough to write many words about this novel. I think maybe it's because I feel like I'm missing something, like I missed some secret message hidden in the book.
Would I want to know the date of my death? Judging from this book, probably not. None of the main characters in The Immortalists are actually living, instead dreading the date in the back of their minds, and in turn, that makes them selfish, neurotic people.
Would I recommend The Immortalists? I think I've been a little harsh because it didn't meet my high expectations from reading earlier reviews, but I do think it is a fine read. Like I said at the beginning, I read through this book pretty quickly, and enjoyed reading it. But don't expect to understand the meaning of life and death from it, either. Enjoy it for what it is, a story about four kids who make a decision that changes their lives forever.