For a look at fame and legacy, for some play on gender norm flipping, for characters who go from unlikable to at least understandable, for a really interesting effect in the storytelling style
Dava Shastri, one of the world’s wealthiest women, has always lived with her sterling reputation in mind. A brain cancer diagnosis at the age of seventy, however, changes everything, as she decides to take her death—like all matters of her life—into her own hands.
Summoning her four adult children to her private island, she discloses shocking news: in addition to having a terminal illness, she has arranged for the news of her death to break early, so she can read her obituaries.
As someone who dedicated her life to the arts and the empowerment of women, Dava expects to read articles lauding her philanthropic work. Instead, her “death” reveals two devastating secrets, truths she thought she had buried forever. And now the whole world knows, including her children.
In the time she has left, Dava must come to terms with the decisions that have led to this moment—and make peace with those closest to her before it’s too late.
I’m not sure what I expected but it wasn’t this. What a pleasant discovery. I started off disliking every character, from Dava herself down to her grandchildren. As I saw into the minds and motivations of each of them, my understanding and sympathy grew. While I might still not be friends with all of these people, I no longer harboured my disdain for them.
I loved the way the past happened in this book. That might sound strange, but let me explain. There weren’t such clear moments of “that was then, this is now,” but at no time was it confusing. Dava is slipping between memories and her current experience so often as she deteriorates that we just slip along with her naturally. The feeling was akin to that of when you let your mind wander and end up recalling something you haven’t thought of in many years. All parts of the story were interesting and compelling, so I never resented moving from one moment to another.
The short epilogues from each child was a tidy way to wrap things up, for those of us curious about what happened to these folks After. It had a strange feeling to me like the overlay text at the end of Legally Blonde that was amusing, but it worked really well for this story. I was satisfied with them, too. There were things that were addressed honestly instead of being a neat little package of convenience. Basically, it felt like nonfiction over fiction in how it was handled at the end.
The setting was kind of strange. Every now and then there would be some reference reminding me that this is not, in fact, in the last few years, but in 2044. Oblique references to how the chalet is far behind in technology, or how Dava lost her husband long ago during the Covid years, or the casual expectance of extreme weather occurrences: they all add up to a vague but reasonable picture of potential life 20 years from now. To be honest, it didn’t affect the story that much, but it was an element that was jarring to me a bit every time I remembered and got kind of depressed about the future.
Dava is shameless and unapologetic for her fascination with her legacy and ego. While that’s a pretty unappealing and baffling personality trait, I appreciated that she acted the same way all the men in the same legacy-obsession stories are. Telling her husband she needs a wife so she can become famous and rich and take care of their family was a really interesting scene (and no, this is not a spoiler, I promise! Just a detail amongst many). Gender questions came up in this story precisely because they didn’t always get mentioned. There’s a lot of focus for Dava on how she slowly starts being defined by men despite all she’s done on her own, but there are also smaller moments that serve as foils to highlight the larger issues.
Overall, I quite liked this book! The feeling of their present-day being contained to the island house and blizzard, while we slip in and out of time and locations with Dava, gave it a really ethereal quality while still remaining very grounded and precise.