“... they break through the surface in astounding numbers. They climb the nearest vertical object; the husks of their nymphal skins drop crisply to the ground. Their bodies are pale and not yet hardened. In the darkness, they sing.”
Despite my low rating, I do think it is possible for people to enjoy this novel. In fact, I’ve seen almost nothing but positive reviews for this, and I understand why: it is a character-driven literary thriller filled with gorgeous prose. As well, the idea (four young siblings visit a psychic who tells each of them the date of his or her death, and their lives unspool from there) is pretty clever. That’s why I bought this book new and paid almost full price for it; I thought there was no way I wouldn’t like it.
I was wrong.
My biggest problem is with the narrative’s structure. These siblings, after visiting the psychic, soon depart from one another and go on to live their lives. The youngest, Simon, goes to San Francisco with one of his sisters, Klara. I enjoyed these two, especially Simon. The focus is on these two for a while, and the reader is left in the dark about their older siblings. Each ‘part’ of this novel focuses on a different sibling, and typically he or she doesn’t interact much with his or her family . . . despite this being, in part, a novel about the ties that bind us to familial relationships. So it doesn’t work, for me. The end result is not a cohesive novel, but instead a series of vignettes spread out over four decades. Told in only 330 pages, the story feels excessively rushed and I never got the chance to feel for these characters. Klara was the closest to likable; I didn’t much care for the other siblings at all. They are selfish and brooding.
This is a unique story, and I give kudos to Chloe Benjamin for trying it. While it is not something I personally enjoyed, I could see it being appreciated by other readers. It just didn’t get off the ground, and I hate that. Perhaps if the story had been fleshed out a good deal more and the siblings had more things to do with one another, it would’ve been a better read.