The Life to Come is an exceptionally elegant novel of ideas. It is a story about stories — the stories we tell ourselves about our own lives. Some of those stories are about our national image of ourselves that doesn’t quite ring true — that of the lucky and generous country where mateship is valued above all else. Other stories are about how individuals construct a public image that may not really resemble their private lives, particularly through the use of social media. De Kretser asks us to both recognise, deconstruct and laugh at our most shameful parts.
The five long chapters of The Life to Come present us with separate stories, mostly set in Australia, but also in Sri Lanka and Paris, tenuously linked by the recurring character of Pippa, a writer with more ambition than skill. Each character tells their own story in their own unique and well-defined voice. The characters show us how they see their past and inhabit their present: the small acutely observed details of what they remember, how they feel, how they have reacted to others and most importantly the scope of their loneliness. What emerges is a complex and layered portrait of what we leave unsaid, the ways that we are always pretending, our quiet yearnings, buried histories, and the needs we don’t know how to articulate. De Kretser makes the provocative argument that telling stories can take us too far from witnessing the realities of what is in front of us. The Life to Come is a fiercely intelligent character study that leaves the reader with much to think about long after they’ve finished reading.