Life After Truth by Ceridwen Dovey


The novel opens with extracts from the ‘Harvard Class of 2003 – Fifteenth Anniversary Report’: the self-penned entries of five close friends introduce the characters we will meet at the fifteen-year anniversary reunion: Jomo, Juliet (Jules), Eloise, Mariam, and Rowan. The chapters that follow provide us with a third person perspective from four of them. Only four? Jules, a famous actress, is very private and her own perspective is not shared. Jomo is a successful gemologist, carrying an engagement ring, but unable to propose to his girlfriend Giselle. Eloise has built a profession on the science of happiness. She is now Professor of Hedonics but struggles with some issues. Her wife, Binx is younger, and has different priorities. Mariam and Rowan married early. Rowan is the principal of a public school in Brooklyn while Mariam is occupied with the ‘daily slog of parenting’. Money is tight for Mariam and Rowan. Rowan wonders if they should have chosen meaning over wealth? And then there is the elephant in the room: the despised Frederick Reese, the disliked son of a disliked American president.

While we learn about each character from their own third person perspectives and their interactions with each other, our perspectives of Jules and Frederick are limited to the observations of others. Everyone is hiding something, each presents an aspect of themselves to the others, but what is truth? Why doesn’t Mariam tell Rowan about her newly found religious beliefs? Why doesn’t Eloise share her ambivalence around surrogacy with Binx? And why is Jomo unable to propose to Giselle? All these questions are overshadowed by the death of Frederick Reese, whose body is found on the last day of the reunion weekend. Truth in death?

I finished this novel hoping that some of the tensions between characters would be resolved, but recognising that life is complicated, that the friction between ambition and achievement is real and that communication is never complete. I am left disquieted about my feeling that the death of Frederick Reese is justified, and I am delighted that I have no wish to make the acquaintance of a  fembot named Elly+.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith