Review: The Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser, Allen & Unwin

Andrea Simpson

Winner of the 2018 Miles Franklin Award, The Life to Come is an expansive story that explores the microaggressions that occur in contemporary life.
Review: The Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser, Allen & Unwin

Winner of the 2018 Miles Franklin Award Michelle de Kretser's The Life to Come.

Michelle de Kretser is one of Australia’s prominent literary voices, and in her fifth novel, The Life to Come, she demonstrates the true breadth of her artistry.

The Life to Come is presented in five parts and told in a third person, omniscient point of view. De Kretser slowly unfolds each character to reveal a prism of refracted moments that ultimately stack up to a life lived. But is it a life lived well by these characters? De Kretser lets the reader decide, and that is one of her beautiful talents as a writer.

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In this multi-faceted story that travels from Australia to Paris and weaves itself along the way to Sri Lanka, characters are linked, unlinked and linked again. Rather than a sequence of events that are immediately connected, each story is a layer upon a layer.

In part one of the novel ‘The Fictive Self’ we first meet George Meshaw and writer Pippa. Pippa is described as ‘a Pass student whose effortful work George had pitied enough to bump up to a Credit at the last moment.’

Cassie and Ash’s relationship begins and ends in part two, ‘The Ashfield Tamil’, where the nuance of cultural difference between the two characters is stripped bare.

Living in France and visited by her friend Pippa, translator Céleste’s interior world is explored in part three, ‘The Museum of Romantic Life’. The contrast with Céleste and Pippa is evident and revealed inch by inch.

The novel then follows Pippa back to Australia where pervasive cultural ignorance and microaggressions are astutely explored: ‘There was a whisper in Pippa’s brain, like a subdued, left hand-accompaniment to her thoughts, and this whisper was of the opinion that Rashida should be grateful that white people overlooked the double handicap of her religion and her race.’

And lastly, but certainly not the least, is part five, ‘Olly Faithful’, where Pippa’s neighbours, Sri Lankan-born Bunty and Christabel give the most revealing insights into life and the differing perspectives of reality we see.

Winner of this year’s Miles Franklin Award, an award that is supported by the Copyright Agency and delivered by Perpetual with a substantial prize of $60,000, De Kretser is the third woman to have won the Miles Franklin more than once. It’s easy to see why as The Life to Come is a rare novel.

Every part of this expansive story is a devise set upon the reader by a gifted craftswoman; from its slow pacing – revealing life’s quiet disappointments and poignant moments – to the slight pivots of the narrator’s point of view, and all the way down to its melancholic and lonely tone.

The Life to Come excavates the contemporary cultural and social landscape of Australia, and demonstrates that De Kretser is truly a master storyteller.

4 ½ stars ★★★★☆

The Life to Come

By Michelle de Kretser

Category: Literary fiction
ISBN: 9781760296568
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Pub Date: October 2017

About the author

Andrea Simpson is ArtsHub's Feature Writer and Reviews Editor. Andrea is a Filipino-Australian writer with a love for diverse Australian stories. She is curious about all forms of art, though she has an especially keen interest in the publishing sector.

Andrea has had short stories published in various anthologies, and is currently working on her first novel.  

You can follow Andrea on Instagram @andi_jayyy