The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

the immortalists

It’s 1969 and holed up in a grimy tenement building in New York’s Lower East Side is a travelling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the date they will die.  The four Gold children, too young for what they’re about to hear, sneak out to learn their fortunes.

Over the years that follow, the siblings must choose how to live with the prophecies the fortune-teller gave them that day.  Will they accept, ignore, cheat or defy them?  Golden-boy Simon escapes to San Francisco, searching for love; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician; eldest son Daniel tries to control fate as an army doctor after 9/11; and bookish Varya looks to science for the answers she craves.

A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists is a story about how we live, how we die, and what we do with the time we have.

The Immortalists touches upon a profound dilemma – if you could find out in advance the date upon which you were going to die, would you?  And in finding out, would you then try to avoid that fate?  Such is the question posed by Benjamin in this brilliant debut novel, and it creates a thought-provoking read that I found difficult to put down.  Of course, there’s the question of self-fulfilling prophecy here – if they hadn’t been given their dates, would they have done things differently?  And would it have made any difference?  Like I said, there’s lots to think about here.

The structure is straightforward – the novel is split into four sections, with each section following a different character.  It progresses chronologically – where one ends, the next one starts – and in this way the reader comes to know each of the siblings in detail, whilst also catching glimpses of the others through their siblings’ eyes.  I liked how different each section was.  Whilst related, the four Gold children lead diverse lives that bear little resemblance to each other – they have their own hopes and aspirations and they follow their own dreams.  Because of the chronological nature, it also means that we see the different characters at different stages of their lives – the final section’s character is in their forties / fifties when we get to them.  (I’m trying desperately not to use gender specific pronouns to discuss this novel, as I don’t want to give any hints that might spoil it by revealing any kind of order, or dates etc.)   For me, this kept the novel completely fresh, with none of the repetition that you might see in a cast of characters growing up.

Whilst being very different, I become extremely attached to each of the characters, and I was torn between wanting to know whether their prophecies were true and how they might come about, but also wanting them all to go on to lead long lives.  Each of them faces ups and downs throughout their lives, and this is at least partly what made them so realistic and endearing.  I also feel that Gertie – the Gold matriarch – deserves a special mention.  Whilst not one of the points of view in the novel, she is present throughout, and she is a wonderful character seen only through the somewhat biased eyes of her children.  I didn’t fully appreciate her role until later in the novel, and whilst she is a secondary character, she is definitely noteworthy.

Whilst the novel might seem predictable given its nature, there were some surprises thrown in along the way and it didn’t end as I expected it to, and I liked the way in which Benjamin chose to finish the novel.  It may sound gloomy with its preoccupation of death, but I didn’t find this to be the case at all, and I felt that there was much within the pages that was hopeful and uplifting, and I think that there is a message of living life to the full.

The Immortalists is published by Tinder Press, and is available now in eBook, and will be released in hardback on 8 March.  Many thanks to the publisher for allowing me to review and review this title in advance of its publication via Netgalley.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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12 thoughts on “The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

  1. Excellent review Jo! I so agree with you about Gertie, her character really shined at the end and I realized how much I actually liked her. I also went back and forth worrying about what would happen to each character yet needing to know at the same time. I’m really glad you enjoyed this one!

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