Book review: The Immortals

The Immortals is yet another example of Amazon tempting me with their Kindle offers. Last year in November they made it available for £1.49 and I snapped it up and then forgot about it until I finished reading Eleanor & Park for my book club and was casting about for something new to read. In the intervening months, I’d managed to forget what had drawn me to buying The Immortals and what it was about, so I got a lovely surprise.


The Immortals by S. E. Lister


So, The Immortals follows Rosa. As the story opens she’s in her early 20s and she’s arriving home to her estranged family who she ran away from some years earlier. She gets a slightly frosty reception but mostly this is out of awkwardness – her family has already mourned her and now they don’t really know how to react. Nevertheless, they find her a room and some clothes and they get her a meal, soon warming to her presence. Rosa, on the other hand, is quickly reminded why she left.

We then jump back to those days when she was a teenager, 17 or 18 years old, to her deciding to leave and why. We discover that Rosa and her family are unusual, they can travel in time – falling forward or back through the years to explore other eras. Rosa only comes to understand this slowly, because her father, for some reason, is stuck in 1949, and every year on the 31st of December the family packs up and falls back to the first of January, to live out the year again. They find a new house and spend most of the year indoors, terrified that they should run into themselves. Otherwise, every year is the same. The same messages on the radio, the same events, the same weather, everything.

When Rosa can’t handle it anymore she leaves, falls back in time and, luckily, discovers that her family aren’t the only ones who can do this, but they do seem to be the only ones who are stuck. Thus begins her adventure. It is as much an adventure of self-discovery as it is one of exploration. It is often, but not always lonely, with the mysterious Tommy Rust occasionally appearing to hang out for a while before they are pulled apart again by the “tides” of time, which fling them across the centuries. Few of these travellers seem fully in control of where they go, or when, but there are places and times where the tides are strong and they can influence the journeys a little.

Naturally, the concept is fascinating, and the first half of the novel is almost completely given over to allowing Rosa to enjoy the freedom of this exploratory period. Reading, I couldn’t help thinking what I’d do, where I’d go, the events I’d want to see. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a novel if everything was smooth sailing all the time and, without wanting to spoil it too much, I think it’s safe to say that the second half of the novel is haunting.

I loved this book. There’s a danger it will become one of the books that I give as gifts and that I’ll try to make all my friends read it (sorry, you guys). I want them to make a BBC drama of it with Andrew Scott as Tommy Rust and perhaps Emily Mortimer as Rosa. Or a movie. In a book where the characters can travel through time and witness any event, it’s fascinating that Lister manages to point out that those events that shape us have very little to do with where we are, or when.

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