The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The old saying goes that there are only two things certain in life – death and taxes. The similarity between them is that it’s next to impossible to work either of them out.


There’s one other certain thing – that is if you try to write a bestselling book about people waiting for taxes, it will almost certainly fail.


Luckily Chloe Benjamin has written about death, a far more fascinating subject. Specifically about four siblings growing up in New York in the seventies who hear whispers of a woman that can tell you the day you’re going to die.


They visit her, and one by one they discover their unique days. We see through the eyes of Varya, the eldest, and the last to go inside the woman’s apartment.


We and Varya learn that her expected date is long in the future, an old woman, she’ll be eighty-eight. She joins the others, but none of them share their date.


We follow their lives as they grow up –  the reader is not aware of the other dates either, although there are clues along the way – and each of them approach life in a different way.


Without wanting to spoil anything for anyone who might read, I found Varya’s approach the most interesting. The contrast between the way she chooses to live her long life is interesting in contrast to the others.


And that’s the question the book is trying to answer. What’s better, a long life lived carefully or a short one filled with passion and adventure?


The more I read, the more I started to think about it. As a reader, we didn’t know when they were going to die, we just knew that they would. We didn’t even know that they knew when they were going to die – they just had a date from an old woman, no hard proof.


This is the way we all live our lives – none of us know when we’re going, all we can be certain of is that we will. The difference here, though, is that they are confronted with their own mortality when they are kids.


The eponymous Immortalists are not our four characters, they are all children. All of us believe we’re going to live forever when we’re young – this book explores that moment when we realise that one day, we too will die.


The characters in this book become obsessed with it, some of them fight it, some of them embrace it – all of them succumb, eventually.


The Immortalists is a well-written exploration of death, the characters becoming mouthpieces for society in general. It doesn’t shy away from some hard truths, nor does it quite go down the route you would expect it to. It doesn’t try to solve the mysteries of death, instead, it tries to explore the questions that come up in life.


What is it all about? What should we do with it?


I’ve been trying to think of something that this book is like, but it’s quite unlike anything I’ve read before. I enjoyed it it, though, and it shows us a slice of America in a similar way that other big novels have done before. If you’ve enjoyed things like Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch or Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes LastI think you’ll like this one.


The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin is published on the 8th March by Tinder Press


The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

“I don’t read that sort of book.”

I hear a lot of that.

Some people don’t read crime books, while others avoid James Patterson-type thrillers.

People in their millions across the world rushed to read 50 Shades of Grey and at the same time, millions more mocked it for being trash – despite (probably) never having read it.

I try not to have a type of book – although will admit a preference to fiction over non-fiction, on the basis that I like stories, but stories don’t exclusively exist in a made-up narrative, so I occasionally dabble.

This is not one of those times.

I read The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood at the request of a friend of mine who absolutely adored it.

I’d never read a Margaret Atwood previously; I’d always considered her books “not my type of book”.

However, in the last few years, I’ve considerably expanded my palate and since I’d read The Goldfinch and A Little Life and enjoyed both, I thought maybe now was the time I should give Atwood a go.

The Heart Goes Last tells the story of Stan and Charmaine, a married couple living in their car in a dystopian future. They see an advertisement for a new initiative, a new, Utopian city where everyone’s happy, everyone has a home, and nobody’s hungry.

The only catch is that every other month the citizens have to swap places with their counterparts who are living in a prison. Their new, perfect lives are a timeshare.

Reading the book made me realise how much I had misjudged Margaret Atwood. It was nothing like I had thought it to be, it was nothing like A Little Life or The Goldfinch.


The Goldfinch was the saga of a young boy’s ascent into adulthood, A Little Life was a simple exploration of love between men, The Heart Goes Last was a clever premise gone wrong.

It races from one clever idea to another. The dystopian future is explored briefly, but that’s forgivable since every other novel has done it to death, and the point of this story was not the future, but the escape from it.

And then the escape comes and we barely scrape the surface of it before it becomes a novel about escaping that. The last third of the novel ends up in Vegas where Stan ends up living with a group of Elvis impersonators, and becomes one of them. By this point, the dystopian future is completely forgotten about.

It has many ideas, and they do raise a lot of moral questions. However these questions that are not explored in any great detail and nor do they offer any answers.

Ultimately, this is the type of book that people who want to seem clever read, but it isn’t actually clever.

Atwood has several ideas here that if properly expanded upon could become novels in their own right instead of this lightweight, un-funny, farce.

Needless to say, I’m not rushing to read any more Margaret Atwood books.