Ceridwen Dovey‘s latest novel is a bit of a departure from her previous offerings. Set at Harvard University, during the week of a fifteen year reunion, Life After Truth follows five friends as they navigate the many parties and events of the week, all the while wondering if they’ve taken the right path in life.
The book has been described as The Secret History meets Big Little Lies, and for good reason. Early in the book, the reader is given a flash forward to the final day of the trip, where someone dies. The narrative then returns to the beginning of the week and progresses chronologically. Dovey alternates the points of view between four of the five friends and combines a description of the week’s events with flashbacks about their university days.
Jomo, the founder of a luxury jewellery company, is rich and successful and dating a model who he has almost proposed to. Mariam and Rowan, who married during their final year of college, now have two daughters and are navigating the challenges of maintaining their own identities whilst also being good parents. Mariam, for example, is hiding a new commitment to Christianity, which she has discovered after the death of her father. She also bemoans the increasing gentrification of her neighbourhood, all the while recognising that her family is part of the problem. Rowan, on the other hand, is a school principal. Once a competitive student, he now compares his progress in life to old friend and rival, Eloise, a successful author and scholar in the field of Hedonistics (the psychology of happiness.)
Eloise is perhaps not as happy as her success and her field of study might suggest however. She is now married to a much younger woman Binx, a former student of Eloise’s who identifies as a posthumanist and is creating an AI based on Eloise’s consciousness using money from her trust fund. Viewing her own marriage through the eyes of her college friends, Eloise is confronted by how ill at ease she is with some of the directions her life has taken and may begin to take.
At the centre of them all is Jules, who was already a well-known actress when she attended Harvard. Seen only through the eyes of others, Jules is the wild card in the story, unknown and unknowable, and a little hard to visualise. Her ephemeralness in the story is a double edged sword, both adding to the many ways that the novel’s ending might be interpreted, and making her role in the story at times feel irrelevant. She may be based on Natalie Portman, who attended Harvard around the same time as Dovey – as did Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of outgoing President Donald Trump.
The inclusion of this random fact is not, in fact, random. There are many allusions throughout the book to the 2016 US Presidential Elections. Right from the first page – from the title, even – it is clear that this is a novel for the post-2016 era. Political without bashing the reader over the head with it, the novel is witty, clever, and very much of its time. It is perhaps easier to understand and will reach a larger audience than Dovey’s earlier novels: In the Garden of the Fugitives and Blood Kin.
A novel with a lot of heart and a lot of book club appeal, Life After Truth was a breath of fresh air after the stress of the 2020 Presidential Election; I really couldn’t put it down.