Immortalist by Chloe Benjamin is a novel of sweeping ambition and fiendish poignancy. Aptly titled, the book grapples with the matters of life and death as well as an expiry date ending the latter and initiating the former. Benjamin is keenly aware of the inherent sorrow underlying one’s failure to cheat mortality, and she is not ashamed to explore it in a gimmicky premise of her novel. In a sweltering summer of 1969, the Gold children – four siblings – gain a preview of their death. A Romany woman uses clairvoyant powers to predict the exact dates the siblings will die. And thus, the bittersweet novel starts unfolding. It relentlessly draws the readers inside the sticky, humid New York of yore and the cold future that is about to happen. In this reviews and discussion of the Immortalists book, I will argue that the absorbing novel milks the puzzling notions of uncertainty and fate to prepare its readers for a vicarious death experience, which makes the read terrifyingly liberating.
The Immortalists Analysis and Questions
Everyone has dreamt of immortality. This much is certain. Everyone has realized the futility of the heady dream. This is also clear. But how does a person react when they see their death coming a mile off? Benjamin’s tackling of the doomy subject and the ensuing fame attest to the fact that the readers are interested in this kind of questions and answers. This notwithstanding, the rousing read is short on answers. It is up to the audience to make heads or tails of the themes and ideas laid out in the book. As such, the novel can be regarded as a whimsical quiz for book club discussion testing the readers’ ability to answer difficult questions, some of which might not even have been posed. What is it about? I believe that The Immortalists is about personal transformation inevitably following the dissolution of uncertainty. Benjamin nodes to the notion of destiny when she presents the group of children with spoilers – exact dates of their death. By revealing the gruesome ending, the author removes the veil of uncertainty, thereby forcing her protagonists to shiver, panic, and, above all, change. When ending explained, there is nothing left but to change. What is the point of Immortalists book characters’ life if they have no recourse but to inch slowly to the center of the target drawn by destiny itself? Understanding this, the Gold siblings try to escape the fortuneteller’s ominous prophecies by altering the course and meaning of their life. As one could have guessed, it is not easy to pry open the relentless jaws of fate. The death-defying ambition driving the protagonists becomes their downfall, which often brings the Immortalists comparison to Frankenstein. Is the Immortalists a teen book? Hardly. Yet any teenager would be better off reading it. The Immortalists study guide on vicissitudes and certainties of life, which is recommended to anyone who is about to make important choices.
Characters in the Immortalists
What happens in the Immortalists hits unsuspecting readers in the left prefrontal cortex making them feel happy, and then delivers multiple stinging punches right to the amygdala dumping them in the abyss of sadness. The author throws a vibrant description of the city here and a lurid sex scene there to warm her way under the readers’ skin. Being caught in the florid details of the characters’ life, one stops worrying how do each die and starts living with them. But each death date has been predestined. When the first character – Simon – is getting crossed off a list, readers start feeling the cold undercurrent of the novel. Benjamin leaves them wondering: “Does Simon get AIDS in the Immortalists?” Then, the emotional piquancy of the novel spikes again when its plot veers toward the story of Klara magic obsessed character. How does Klara die in the Immortalists? Being a magician, the character thought that “there must be a loophole, a secret trapdoor.” Klara’s solution was to kill herself. She died. The readers participated in a magic trick: the abyss of sadness had a false bottom; they kept reading and kept falling. Daniel death was another trapdoor. There are many decent quotes from the Immortalists, but one that can be used in the stead of chapter summaries is provided by Daniel. It seems that he is the only Gold who realizes that “most people enjoy a certain level of impotence. But […] we do have control – so much that it scares us to death.” The writer does not want to challenge his assumption. She immerses the readers into the rich story of Varya, as well as her relationships with Frida and Luke, only to let the reins go and end the book. She no longer controls the story – the readers do. It is up to them to decide how Varya die even if it scares them to death.
Why is The Immortalists so Good? Is Critique Unwarranted?
The novel has garnered largely positive feedback. Some literature connoisseurs have carped that Benjamin’s book is overrated and ridiculed it for being excessively metaphorical and mawkish. However, the novel’s success indicates that nobody has taken these unwarranted cavils to heart. It can be argued that the American readership was unswayed by the criticism because everyone enjoyed Benjamin’s candor and lightness of hand. And these two are the key ingredients in the ‘suspension of disbelief’ spell. The Immortalists gives the spellbound audience a chance to experience a vicarious and plausible death, which makes the book so imminently great and terrifying.