The Life to Come

The Life to Come 2

by Michelle de Kretser

Paperback / softback Publication Date: 01/10/2017

4/5 Rating 2 Reviews Add your review
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The dazzling new novel from Michelle de Kretser, author of Questions of Travel, bestseller and winner of the Miles Franklin Award.

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.

Reviewed by Robert at Angus & Robertson Bookworld:

This book is a glorious piece of virtuosity that is unlike anything I have ever read. It is provocative, tragicomic, and full of the most wonderfully descriptive writing you'll see this year. More valuably though, this book may actually change you.

The Life to Come is a series of mini-narratives entwined to produce a rich and colourful tapestry. Like in her 2012 MIles Franklin Award-winning novel Questions of Travel, there is no dominant narrative arc here - it is the details that make up the whole. Those expecting a grand plot may be confounded at first, but if you let yourself go with the novel's small episodes, a more valuable picture emerges. This novel delves into the stories we tell both others and ourselves. It explores how we make excuses for our bad behaviour and highlight our aspirations, always with our best times and deeds just before us, in the life to come. Ultimately, De Kretser highlights how we are the heroes of our own stories.

It is mostly set in Inner West Sydney, in a world of politically aware creatives who are forever bumping against each other. Each of her characters is a kind of vignette, carrying defined ideas of who they are and where they are going. Some have cast themselves as grand writers, charitable neighbours, or great liberal supporters of refugees and the marginalised. These ideals are soon revealed as the hypocritical constructs they are, with De Kretser deftly pinning each one to the board with glorious wit - her character observations are so acute that you are often left breathless.

Thankfully, De Kretser’s authorial compassion offsets the social shortcomings of her characters, as we realise they are full of human frailty, just like us. Moving and evocative, intellectual and pointed, and all written in brilliant prose, this book is a rich delight that is so uniquely of its time, and my pick of 2017 so far. Take your time reading it, and watch how it colours even the smallest social interactions in your life. You'll ask yourself questions. You may change how you act. Certainly you will want to re-read it.

~

'I so much admire Michelle de Kretser's formidable technique - her characters feel alive, and she can create a sweeping narrative which encompasses years, and yet still retain the sharp, almost hallucinatory detail.' Hilary Mantel

'Michelle de Kretser knows how to construct a gripping story. She writes quickly and lightly of wonderful and terrible things…A master storyteller.' A.S. Byatt

'...one of those rare writers whose work balances substance with style. Her writing is very witty, but it also goes deep, informed at every point by a benign and far-reaching intelligence.' Kerryn Goldsworthy, Sydney Morning Herald

'...a dazzlingly accomplished author who commands all the strokes. Her repertoire stretches from a hallucinatory sense of place to a mastery of suspense, sophisticated verbal artistry and a formidable skill in navigating those twisty paths where history and psychology entwine.' Boyd Tonkin, Independent

ISBN:
9781760296568
Category:
Classic fiction
Format:
Paperback / softback
Publication Date:
01-10-2017
Language:
English
Publisher:
ALLEN & UNWIN
Country of origin:
Australia
Pages:
384
Dimensions (mm):
234x153mm
Michelle de Kretser

Michelle de Kretser was born in Sri Lanka and emigrated to Australia when she was 14. Educated in Melbourne and Paris, Michelle has worked as a university tutor, an editor and a book reviewer.

She is the author of The Rose Grower , The Hamilton Case, which won the Commonwealth Prize (SE Asia and Pacific region) and the UK Encore Prize, and The Lost Dog, which was widely praised by writers such as AS Byatt, Hilary Mantel and William Boyd and won a swag of awards, including: the 2008 NSW Premier's Book of the Year Award and the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, and the 2008 ALS Gold Medal.

The Lost Dog was also shortlisted for the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction, the Western Australian Premier's Australia-Asia Literary Award, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (Asia-Pacific Region) and Orange Prize's Shadow Youth Panel. It was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize for Fiction.

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Customer Reviews

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  • a compelling read.

    by on

    “But imagination had nothing to do with reason: its promise of change came from the same hidden, tidal source as catastrophe and luck. It was a lever that would provide whatever shift Pippa required. There would be cracking open and mess; things would be different, if not necessarily better. After a while, life would return to its monotonous groove.”

    The Life To Come is the fifth full-length novel by award-winning Sri Lankan-born Australian author, Michelle de Kretser. This novel in five parts details events in the lives of several Australians: sometimes their lives intersect, sometimes they appear in the background of each other’s stories, sometimes they are sometimes loosely connected. A common character in all parts is Pippa Reynolds, an aspiring author whose journey is followed from student to writer to wife and mother.

    George Meshaw is an author who has a minor influence on Pippa’s writing. Sri Lankan-born Ashoka Fernando appears in the wings of Pippa’s story via his girlfriend Cassie, who appears to have a fascination with a certain Tamil shopkeeper. Celeste Harrison is a translator whose life intersects with Pippa’s while Pippa is in Paris working on a novel. Pippa’s own story details her marriage to violinist, Matt Elkinson and certain insecurities which spur her into action. Sri Lankan expatriates, Christabel and Bunty’s lives also intersect with Pippa’s while they are next-door neighbours and become unwitting characters in her most successful novel.

    De Kretser gives the reader an abundance of exquisite descriptive prose: “In the moist, grey summer dawns, George felt he was walking into a book he had read long ago” and “In Sydney he recovered lost mornings of steamy grey warmth. The city was regulated and hygienic – occidental – yet voluptuously receptive to chaos and filth. It knew the elemental, antique drama of the sea” and “The light was deep blue and close-woven; whole rows of buildings looked as if they had been cut out with care and glued against the sky” are a few examples.

    More samples of too many to include here: “Her memory, a steel plate on which lists of vocabulary, rules governing the subjunctive, and a handful of French poems had been engraved forever, had areas eaten out by rust. Faces fell through it – lately even her mother’s had disappeared” and “The street was the kind where the buildings breathed into each other’s faces, and evening arrived at half-past three” and “The moon rose, and the sea kept running up to the land for a gossip.”

    While some scenes in each of the parts appear to echo despite the distinct perspective of the narrators, if the reader is looking for a book where all the stories are completed and issues resolved, where everything tied with a neat bow, then this is not that book. We get glimpses into people’s lives, but not always fully realised ones. Perhaps that is de Kretser’s intention.

    As for her characters, the reader can be forgiven for wondering if de Kretser actually likes any of them very much: many are not characters that come across as engaging, not characters the reader will fall in love with, care about, hope for, to any great extent. They are flawed, but not always charmingly so: some are pretentious, quite unlikeable, some are unendearingly quirky, and hard to connect with. But perhaps this is also intentional. De Kretser explores several topical issues: refugees, ostentatious philanthropy, the attitude of Australians abroad, and the state of Australian Literature. She has a unique writing style and this is a compelling read.

  • Reviewed by Robert at Angus & Robertson Bookworld

    by on

    I loved “The Life To Come”.
    This book is a glorious piece of virtuosity that is unlike anything I have ever read.
    It is provocative, tragicomic, and full of the most wonderfully descriptive writing you'll see this year.
    More invaluably though, this book may actually change you.

    "The Life to Come" is a series of mini-narratives entwined to produce a rich and colourful tapestry. As in her 2012 MIles Franklin Award-winning novel "Questions of Travel", there is no dominant narrative arc here - it is the details that make up the whole. Those expecting a grand plot may be confounded at first, but if you let yourself go with the novel's small episodes, a more valuable picture emerges. It is an enjoyable and slow ride that you'll savour.
    This novel delves into the stories we tell both others and ourselves. It explores how we make excuses for our bad behaviour and highlight our aspirations, always with our best times and deeds just before us, in the life to come. Ultimately, De Kretser highlights how we are the heroes of our own stories. We deceive ourselves and others to appear at our best. And this holds beyond the individual, as societies and nations also self-mythologise. At a time of casual discrimination, this poor behaviour can have repercussions beyond the obvious.

    The novel is mostly set in Inner West Sydney, in a world of politically aware creatives who are forever bumping against each other. Each of her characters is a kind of vignette, carrying defined ideas of who they are and where they are going. Some have cast themselves as grand writers, charitable neighbours, or great liberal supporters of refugees and the marginalised. These ideals are soon revealed as the hypocritical constructs they are, with De Kretser deftly pinning each one to the board with glorious wit - her character observations are so acute that you are often left breathless.

    Thankfully, De Kretser’s inclusive compassion offsets this exposure of social shortcomings, as we realise these characters are full of human frailty, just like us. They mirror us in many ways, and we feel for them.

    Moving and evocative, intellectual and pointed, and all written in brilliant prose, this book is a rich delight that is so uniquely of its time, and my pick of 2017 so far. Take your time reading it, and watch how it colours even the smallest social interactions in your life. You'll ask yourself questions. You may even change how you act. Most of all, you will certainly want to re-read it.