Life After Truth by Ceridwen Dovey: Harvard revisited

Cover image for Life After Turth by Ceridwen DoveyI can’t resist a novel with a college reunion theme. There’s something about the idea of catching up with a group of people who met when young, although in the case of Ceridwen Dovey’s Life After Truth, the five main protagonists have remained good friends since Harvard, two of them married to each other. Dovey’s novel follows these five over the weekend which sees multiple class reunions, culminating in a dramatic finale.

The interesting thing was that people’s experiences of hardship seemed to make then nicer, funnier, more open. And lighter, as if by laying down their sense of being special they had put down a heavy load they were tired of carrying

Jomo, Mariam, Rowan, Eloise and Jules were housemates for the duration of their time at Harvard. This is their fifteenth-year reunion, time enough for them to have grown up and become themselves rather than trying on different identities. Jomo is back on track as a high-end jeweller after a crisis five years ago. Mariam is mostly a stay-at-home mother, spending one day a week as a pastry chef. Her husband Rowan is the principal of a state school, determined to do his share of caring for their two daughters. Eloise is a successful academic, a student of happiness, settled into her house with her techie whizz wife, Binx. Jules is the fifth of this close-knit quintet, already a famous movie star before she took up her place at Harvard. Their weekend is jam-packed with events, kicking off with Eloise’s drinks party to welcome the class of 2003. By the end of the reunion epiphanies will be revealed, relationships ended, life-changing decisions made and an awful lot of booze drunk but the defining event will be the murder of Frederick Reese, the President’s son.

Kant believed that it was only at forty that people reach adult maturity and – with some effort and discipline on their part – acquire a ‘moral character’ that remains unchanged for the rest of their lives

In case you think I’ve given the game away, Reese’s demise is revealed within the first few pages after which Dovey switches perspectives between all but one of her five protagonists, exploring a multitude of themes as she does so, from feminism to AI. We get to know them well, their backstories and relationships neatly filled in: Jomo contemplates his friendship with Jules; Rowan is preoccupied with his relative lack of status; Eloise is in a quandary about her wife’s fembot and Mariam is wrestling with a nascent new faith but Jules remains an enigma. As they catch glimpses of the other Harvard class reunions, noting how they themselves have changed and wondering what they’ll become, Frederick Reese is a constant reminder of the president none of them wanted to see in the White House. Dovey’s is an absorbing novel, one which suited my bout of pandemic fatigue well, and an appropriate read for Trump’s last days in power. It’s a little predictable at times – easy to guess who was responsible for Frederick’s death which felt a little like an add-on for me. That said, I enjoyed it enough to think about seeking out Dovey’s back list.

Swift Press: London 9781800750135 352 pages Hardback

13 thoughts on “Life After Truth by Ceridwen Dovey: Harvard revisited”

    1. The murder did feel a little tacked on, perhaps getting a bit of Trump outrage out of the author’s system, but aside from that it presses all those college reunion novel buttons.

  1. The college reunion element sounds great. Such a tantalising idea, meeting up with people after a gap of years, when everyone’s lives have moved on.

  2. I had just started this when the Stella longlist was announced, so I have temporarily put it aside until I’ve done some Stella reading. That said, it seemed a little more ‘lightweight’ than Dovey’s previous work (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), and your review confirms my initial thoughts. I loved her last novel, In the Garden of Fugitives, which was beautifully structured around some thought-provoking themes.

    1. That’s an interesting observation. I enjoyed the novel but the anti-Trump message could have been conveyed more smartly. I’ll add Garden of Fugitives to my list.

  3. This makes me think of that series of photographs taken of a group of women friends across the years; I love that idea too (in and out of fiction). I think the first that I remember reading was an older Rona Jaffe novel. Surely this would be much different. LOL

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