Dolly Alderton’s Ghosts was not what I expected. I thought it would be about a relationship where one person ghosts the other, and the rest of the book unravels the mystery of what happened and how the absence could be explained. (Kind of like Ghosted by Rosie Walsh (reviewed here)). Instead, it’s a deeper and more substantive look at the various pressures and longings of a woman in her early 30s in London.
Why I picked it up: Strong word of mouth.
Nina is a contentedly single food writer living in London. She’s close friends with her ex-boyfriend (now engaged to another woman), has two close female friends (one married with a toddler and one single), and is dealing with the deterioration of her father’s mental acuity as he slides into dementia. When Ghosts opens, she casually decides to try online dating. She quickly meets a man named Max, and they fall for each other rather dramatically. Their relationship continues to develop at a steady clip until one day, he pulls back, avoiding her calls and texts.
Nina’s confusion over Max’s sudden withdrawal, combined with the sad reality of her father’s condition (and her mother’s denial about it) and her married/engaged friends’ self-absorption, prove to be a stressful combination. Ghosts explores how Nina copes with her feelings of loneliness and resentment. She’s a winning protagonist – funny and smart and patient with her friends until they push her too far. She’s entirely relatable. Alderton has a wry sense of humor that makes you laugh along with Nina as she endures the slights and indignities of a single woman in a married world. But there are many moments of poignancy too, especially when Nina goes to see her parents and has to experience her beloved father in his diminished, childlike state. The “ghosts” of the title are the memories of innocent times and the hopes of her youth that now haunt Nina.
Ghosts took me a while to get through, mostly because of unrelated factors that made me pretty distracted this month, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s a bittersweet novel about how to find the good in life even when it lets us down. I’d definitely recommend it.
Ghosts was the 57th book of 2021.