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The Last Life

3.55 of 5 stars 3.55  ·  rating details  ·  1,057 ratings  ·  147 reviews
Remembrance of Things Past
"I find myself wanting to translate the world inside..."

Sagesse LaBasse, the teenage protagonist of Claire Messud's The Last Life, lives in a fragile world held together by the secrets of its past. Her family owns the Hotel Bellevue, a summer retreat for the well-to-do, set on the cliffs of southern France; the view is back toward Algeria, which h...more
Paperback, 400 pages
Published September 28th 2000 by Mariner Books (first published 1999)
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Books Set in Algeria
10th out of 79 books — 17 voters
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France in Contemporary Fiction
61st out of 156 books — 113 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,078)
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Ursula
Like The Emperor's Children, The Last Life created its distinct seductive mood, while still providing recognizable (and relatable) details of, in this case, the life of a teenage girl forced to think for herself. Though I enjoyed, and perhaps related more to, the satire of literary academia in The Emperor's Children, The Last Life was a deeper, and sweeter read.
Jinny
The Last Life was movingly written; not happy, but deeply affecting. The last third of the book was the best, as the protagonist reflects on what has happened and the personalities and motivations of family members driving the story's action.

For me as a young middle-aged adult, the book raised a lot of interesting -- sometimes painful, but also hopeful -- questions about identity, choice, 'starting fresh,' and many other issues. Sagesse, the narrator, did a beautiful job of communicating the (o...more
Darryl Mexic
** “The Last Life” by Claire Messud: Fifteen year old Sagesse La Basse muses about her life and family to an extent that is occasionally interesting, but mostly boring and without a central theme. Her American mother and French-Algerian father are respectively looked down upon and dominated by her martinet paternal grandfather and his patrician wife. The grandfather immigrated to France from Algeria, along with wife and daughter, to open a small hotel on France’s Mediterranean coast. They left...more
Ramona
So far, I am not that impressed. Messud shows a lot of skills, but her over-the-top prose (with many words you only come across when studying for your GREs) seems ill-fitting when writing from the perspective of a teenage girl. I find it hard to connect to the protagonist, and now at page 285, I have stopped caring to know anymore.
One of the few books I have abandoned.
Deborah
It's a little hard to connect with Messud's characters. At her best, it's more like being benignly haunted than reading.
Jan Priddy
I have not finished it, but I have read enough of the reviews to know that what is frustrating me is not going to change. I might finish it, skim the rest, or give up entirely. There are some lovely worded phrases, but the story itself is not clear or compelling, the much hyped shooting doesn't really amount to much, the characters do not command my affection or interest, and sometimes her syntax is just too much work with little payoff in clarity.

At another time and with more patience with weal...more
MJ
Dec 09, 2008 MJ rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: france
I’m on the fence on this one. I could never fully connect with any of the characters for any length of time and yet I couldn’t stop thinking about them. Maybe that was the point; each had their moments before being fractured as people, or fractured within the family unit. The scene in Algeria is one that will stay with me for a very long time.

So there you have it, the character of the father who is the most distasteful of all at the end is the most endearing in his youth with regards to his gra...more
emi Bevacqua
I've never been a fan of philosophy, and tend to find French writers to be philosophical. Claire Messud is a philosophical French writer. The Last Life was both sprawling and fragmented, and if I were more interested in the main character's story it would've been easier to follow.

Sagesse is a French teenager. Her father is Algerian, her mother American, and her younger brother Etienne suffered brain damage at birth and is wheelchair bound. The family business is the Bellevue Hotel Sagesse's gra...more
Emily
I am in shock that more people did not find this book ridiculously boring. Seriously. I had the hardest time caring about any of the characters besides Sagesse and her brother. I cared a little bit about Sagesse's slutty friend, apparently more than she did; a bit about her summer paramour, again, apparently more than she did; her American cousins, see above. That the more engaging characters just sort of drifted out of the story really frustrated me, even though I know the book wasn't about the...more
Sheri
Claire Messud is a beautiful writer so it pains me to say I did not enjoy The Last Life. Maybe it is because this is outside of my usual genre but I was very bored during this read. I love the fact that Claire was weaving the histories of many different generations into what could have been a very inspiring story, but I found myself skimming chapters and even skipping some all together because I just couldn't get into it.
I gave two stars because you can't ignore her talent and I think if she wo...more
Fionnuala
I really ought to give up on Claire Messud. She writes about big issues I am interested in - the fallout from the French leaving Algeria in this book - but somehow deals with them in such a way that I find I care less at the end of the book than I did at the beginning. Contrast the Michael Haneke film Caché, that dealt with the same subject so much more powerfully. I think, perhaps, it's that she doesn't take many risks as a writer, doesn't let the really powerful undercurrents rise up into her...more
Denise
Sagesse is a French teenager with an Algerian-French father and an American mother. She is struggling with her family history and her father's and grandfather's actions and her feeling towards her profoundly handicapped younger brother. Riddled with guilt by association, she is quite miserable.

She had always known that things were not quite right in her family. They own the Bellevue Hotel which her grandfather built on the Mediterranean coast of France after being driven out of Algeria in the 19...more
Daniel Behn
Deep thoughts on growing up. You can really tell the influence of being multi-cultural on her writing. The style is introspective and insightful, sometimes too much, for a coming of age story, read dreary and tedious, but well thought out, yes.

Enjoyable because its different.

On living aloof: "Their interactions were like a television program that I watched, albeit religiously, and I felt for them the detached fondness that one reserves for fictional characters."

On justice partiality: "A trial, i...more
Jennifer
Claire Messud is a gifted writer and every line is crafted. I found myself unable to put this book down because of her beautiful prose, but the storyline utself was mediocre. I found the same kind of letdown at the end of this novel as her previous novel, "The Emperor's Children". What was it really all about in the end and what larger truth about life was revealed? I'm still not sure, but would probably still read her next book to see if her stories can grow as compelling as her writing.
Mom
A dense well-written book about the effects of family history on one's life and our need to create stories about our families and ourselves.

Sagesse LaBasse is a teenage girl growing up in comfortable wealth in southern France. Her family, French Algerian emigrants, use family stories to offer a sense of permanance and security in the midst of war, emigrations, crises. The story begins with the grandfather in colonial Algeria, shows in stunning detail the disorder of the last days of French rule...more
Alisonismail
This was very readable, with some beautiful prose, but it didn't quite soar for me. It read like it had been slightly unnaturally translated, although as far as I can make out Claire Messud writes in English. Like many new books I read now I felt it could have done with a good edit.
Lyn
May 03, 2009 Lyn rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to Lyn by: Madras book group
I found little to like about this book. The story is depressing, the writing style and use of language distracting, and not one of the characters likable. It took me forever to read, I kept hoping something redeemable would happen, I was disappointed all the way to the final page.
Elizabeth
Really depressing and I didn't like her writing. I got so I would read the first line of paragraphs and skip to the next just to move the book along. I read it to help learn about French/Algerian history, which I did, but I just didn't like the book.
Carol Feldman
Racism, sexism, classism, adolescence, family, disability, national identity vs. personal identity, infidelity, and history. Oh my! Most of all, though, loneliness.

Wonderfully written.
Carolyn
Exceptionally well-written; richly describes contemporary Algerian history from the perspective of priveledged French teenager. Messud is impressive.
Steve Mayer
This is the third book by Claire Messud that i have read, and I have loved them all in different ways. This book ranges from the philosophical to the intensely personal, but it is ultimately about family secrets and family history, and the way they affect our choices and our fates. Like the characters in Sebastian Barry's books, the family in this book is on the "wrong" side of history--in this case, the pied-noirs of Algeria. Faced with a choice between the suitcase and the coffin, they were fo...more
Lacygnette
I wanted to really like this book - it was so well written and the theme of how a past never leaves you (Algiers for most of the family; France for Sagesse) interests me. Plus I knew nothing about the Algerian/French problems. But the going got too heavy for me (and I read a lot of heavy books.) I'll have to admit I skimmed the last 100 pages because I just got antsy. So much deep thought - well put, well-observed by the narrator looking back at herself, but there was little relief.

Also, as sai...more
Chris
A coming of age story, a French-American girl named Sagese is trying to figure out all that entails being a half American-French girl growing up with French-Algerian heritage in metropolitan France. Dealing with an atypical mother/father and in-house living situation with the father's parents (Sagese's paternal grandparents), we follow as she deals with situations that a 15 year old girl must cope with.

The novel is written from Sagese's perspective and contains a lot of the characteristics you'd...more
Helynne
I love stories about French colonial Algeria and its aftermath. Claire Messud’s The Last Life (2000), is a particularly moving character study of how the violence and regret for that period as well as the dual cultural identity can affect a French family for generations. The LaBasse family lives in an unnamed city on the Mediterranean coast of France during 1989-90. In this milieu, 14-year-old, Sagesse (the name means "wisdom") lives near her family’s three-star Bellevue Hotel with her American...more
Diana
There are a lot of interesting pieces to talk about in The Last Life by Claire Messud. Little pieces, that don't quite come together to make an interesting book, unfortunately, but interesting pieces, none the less.

The Last Life is blurbed as being "the story of teenage Sagesse LeBasse and her family, repatriated French Algerians. It is set in colonial Algeria, the south of France and New England. . . . When shots from the grandfather's rifle shatter an evening's quiet, their world begins to cru...more
Toni
Very self-absorbed novel. Since it is written by/about a 15 year old girl, suicide, the psychological pain of being the descendant of both war refugees and oppressive colonizers (French pied-noirs), I suppose that's appropriate. But so serious, unremittingly humorless. Author Claire Messud has recently been in a bit of a literary sniping-match with Jennifer Weiner about the value of likable women in novels. Maybe she'd be pissed about my complaints about the lack of levity in her book, if there...more
Andy
An understated character study and coming-of-age novel that carefully and deliberately unlocks the interconnected narratives of several generations of a French-Algerian family. Messud sets the novel in and around a small hotel on the French Riviera owned by the grandfather of her teenage protagonist, Sagesse Labasse. During the initial summer season, violence, both in the village and close to home, destabilizes Sagesse's relationship with her family and peers and sends the narrator caroming betw...more
Kirstie
Jul 01, 2011 Kirstie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Those interested in complex coming of age novels and history-Algiers and France
This was a much better book in many ways than The Emperor's Children but still revolves around the legacy of a wealthy family. Most of the book is set in France and Algiers but some of it is set in the United States on the East Coast. At its core, this book is an exploration of identity centered around a protagonist female who is "coming of age." At the same time, growing up with a brother who has a serious disability (from the sounds of the description, severe profound cognition and physical di...more
Nathan James
Had a hard time connecting with this one too (see review of The Emporer's Children). Parts I had to skim through. Claire Messud is an excellent writer and I was interested in the idea of someone's family history directly affecting their life. But the emotional baggage Sagesse carried was either too heavy or too light for me...how to explain...

SPOILERS AHOY AHOY!

I couldn't really get into the teenage girl having troubles with friends and at home thing. Does her boyfriend like her? Or not? Does Ma...more
Jennifer (JC-S)
‘When I was a little girl, I had believed that if you looked long enough and hard enough into a picture you might enter into it..’

Ms Messud’s second novel tells the story of Sagesse LaBasse and her family. Geographically, the novel moves between Algeria, France and the USA. Sagesse’s mother is American, her father and his parents are repatriated French Algerians. Each family member is haunted by different aspects of the past, each reacts differently to the reality of the present. Sagesse’s gran...more
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Claire Messud is an American novelist and literature and creative writing professor. She is best known as the author of the 2006 novel The Emperor's Children. She lives with her husband and family in Cambridge, Massachuesetts.

Born in Greenwich, Connecticut, Messud grew up in the United States, Australia, and Canada, returning to the United States as a teenager. Messud's mother is Canadian, and her...more
More about Claire Messud...
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“I don't want to sleep,' my mother said. 'I want -- for God's sake, I want to wake up.” 2 likes
“The whole world seemed a maze of shifting mirrors in which I wandered alone, looking always and frenziedly for the exit back into my real life, where people had substance, did as they said they would, and were whole.” 2 likes
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