Set in Australia, France, and Sri Lanka, The Life to Come is about the stories we tell and don't tell ourselves as individuals, as societies, and as nations. Driven by a vivid cast of characters, it explores necessary emigration, the art of fiction, and ethnic and class conflict.
Reflecting a pessimism that’s almost refreshing in its candor, The Life to Come is mordantly skeptical about mankind’s capacity for empathy. Its characters are largely unburdened by hidden depths. On balance, they’re exactly as vain and dull and silly as they appear to others ... The novel is filled with brilliant, quick-fire characterizations ... The Life to Come is a scalpel-sharp work of Flaubertian social realism—but now the provincial setting whose customs it mercilessly dissects encompasses all Australia, if not all the world.
The émigré is one kind of traveler, portrayed here with sympathy and lyricism. But de Kretser, who was born in Sri Lanka and came to Australia at 14, saves her startling satirical firepower for another — the expats of the global West, or those who can travel on a whim ... Pippa is as close as de Kretser gets to a protagonist. It is Pippa’s friends, colleagues and acquaintances whose stories we learn via impressionistic flashbacks. In the late 1990s, when we meet her, she is an idealistic undergraduate in Sydney who announces 'I love India' after watching a documentary on TV. Over time, she becomes a more interesting character, a full-fledged writer who seeks experiences in the world with which to animate her fiction. Yet Pippa remains naïve. She preaches empathy for refugees on Facebook, but is careless of the inner lives of others ... For a novel concerned with dislocation, there’s a lot of grounding humor in The Life to Come. Most of it comes at the expense of Pippa and her ilk, but de Kretser’s observations are so spot on, you’ll forgive her even as you cringe.
De Kretser...has again written a perceptive and articulate novel that blends acute observation and well-chosen details to create a sweeping story that is painfully close to home. With fascinating characters and beautifully nuanced writing, The Life to Come is a powerful exploration of the human condition and a compelling examination of how we look at each other and ourselves.