Book Review: Half Life by Jillian Cantor

Half Life…

About the Book:

A brilliant sliding-doors reimagining of the passionate life of the first woman to win a Nobel Prize – and the life Marie Curie might have led if she had chosen love over science.

Poland, 1891. Marie Curie (then Marya Sklodowska) was engaged to a budding mathematician, Kazimierz Zorawski. But when his mother insisted Marya was not good enough, he broke off the engagement. A heartbroken Marya left Poland for Paris to study chemistry and physics at the Sorbonne. Marie would go on to change the course of science forever and become the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.

But what if Marie had made a different choice?

What if she had stayed in Poland, married Kazimierz, and never attended the Sorbonne or discovered radium? What if Marie had chosen her first love and a life of domesticity, still ravenous for knowledge in Russian Poland where education for women was restricted, instead of studying science in Paris and meeting Pierre Curie?

Seamlessly entwining the lives of Marya and Marie, Half Life is a powerful story of love and friendship, motherhood and sisterhood, fame and anonymity – and a woman destined to change the world.

My Thoughts:

This was a surprisingly good book. Surprising because I expected a love versus career type of scenario but that’s not at all what this turned out to be. In this sliding doors like story about Marie Curie, Jillian Cantor shows that who we are, deep down inside, will always rise to the fore no matter the path we choose.

“My whole life I’ve been told no simply because I’m a woman.”

This was an empowering novel, one that emphasised the importance of education for women (it’s set in the late 19th century early 20th century). I really enjoyed it and while science often confounds me and I rarely understood the research any of the characters were working on, I still appreciated the importance of these breakthroughs. I’m in awe of people whose brains work this way (thinking on the real Marie Curie and associated people here) and the author did a magnificent job of conveying this scientific aspect of the story and giving weight to its importance.

“Grief is heavy and overbearing; it tugs me down. It fills my coat pockets with rocks and drags me to the bottom of the cold dark sea, holding me under so I can barely breathe. Days pass, seasons come and go. Time moves forward, but I feel heavier and heavier.”

Grief is a recurring theme throughout this novel. There was an immense amount of loss within Marie Curie’s immediate and extended family. I liked how the author didn’t make one pathway less grief stricken than the other. Structurally, this novel was crafted extremely well. The story was balanced in both pathways and I felt a deep sense of satisfaction as a reader at the novel’s conclusion. Fans of fictional biographies would really enjoy this one that offers a twist on the genre.


Thanks is extended to Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy of Half Life for review.

About the Author:

Jillian Cantor is the internationally bestselling author of ten novels for adults and teens, including In Another Time, The Hours Count, Margot and The Lost Letter. Her books have been translated into 13 languages and chosen for Amazon Best of the Month, LibraryReads, Indie Next. She lives in Arizona.

Half Life
Published by Simon & Schuster Australia
Released 7th April 2021

17 thoughts on “Book Review: Half Life by Jillian Cantor

  1. I have this on my TBR pile and had very good intentions of getting to it sooner rather than later….but here we are! Jennifer also rated it well, so I really must bump it up to be next on.

    Liked by 2 people

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