‘A Life to Come’ by Michelle De Kretser was the winner of the 2018 Miles Franklin award. Having read two of the other finalists, and enjoying both of those (Taboo and Bluebottle), I was looking forward to a really great story and piece of writing that would stand head and shoulders above those other two. I was disappointed.
There was no story, basically. It was character driven, not plot driver. But there were really long chapters, and in each chapter there was a different main character.
It has been said of the novel: “Set in Sydney, Paris and Sri Lanka, The Life to Come is a mesmerising novel about the stories we tell and don’t tell ourselves as individuals, as societies and as nations. It feels at once firmly classic and exhilaratingly contemporary.
“Pippa is a writer who longs for success. Celeste tries to convince herself that her feelings for her married lover are reciprocated. Ash makes strategic use of his childhood in Sri Lanka but blots out the memory of a tragedy from that time. Driven by riveting stories and unforgettable characters, here is a dazzling meditation on intimacy, loneliness and our flawed perception of other people.
“Profoundly moving as well as wickedly funny, The Life to Come reveals how the shadows cast by both the past and the future can transform, distort and undo the present. This extraordinary novel by Miles Franklin-winning author Michelle de Kretser will strike to your soul.”
I didn’t find the novel funny. I found some of the references quite shallow and sad. The characters certainly weren’t memorable. It took me two months to read, because I kept getting bored, and then when I picked it up again I kept forgetting who the characters were. It didn’t help that each chapter had new people. The only thread through the whole book was Pippa.
Pippa was an unlikeable woman – self-centered, and narcissistic. For me, the most memorable character was the last – a Sri Lankan elderly woman who was extremely lonely. Pippa was one of her only contacts outside her house, and Pippa used her as a character in her novel brutally and hurtfully, and then cut off their friendship.
Although there was no story, the character development was great – each character was very deep. A pity I didn’t care much about any of them, except the last elderly lady. The prose was beautiful – quite different from other writing, and very observant and insightful. But it wasn’t enough to redeem the book. I wish Taboo had won.