Review: Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

I ‘m listening to Wham! as I write this. For reasons that will soon become clear. Ghosts is journalist Dolly Alderton‘s debut novel. Despite its close-to-Halloween release, it’s not actually about spirits and ghouls, but it is a wonderfully sharp, insightful, funny and sensitive look at a woman in her 30s navigating life, while exploring the different types of loss that affects so many people.

Opening sentence: My 32nd birthday was the simplest birthday I ever had.

Meet Nina George Dean

Our lead character, Nina is a food writer. She got her middle name as Wham! were number one with (the excellent) Edge of Heaven the day she was born and her mum loved George Michael. A detail I love. Also, the exchange between Nina and her mum about this is just brilliant.

But like all abnormalities and embarrassments of childhood, adulthood recalibrated them into a fascinating identity CV.

We meet Nina as she, now secure in her career, decides it’s time to embark on a new relationship. So she signs up to dating app Linx, and all the ups and downs that go with that. We get to know Nina and her friends a little better (including her ex-boyfriend who she is still close to) and explore what it means to be ghosted.

What is ghosting?

‘I got ghosted last week.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘It’s when a person just stops speaking to you instead of having a break-up conversation.’

Ghosting and loss appears in several story threads through Ghosts – in romantic relationships, in friendships (especially the married vs single friend conundrum that crops up as friendship groups grow up together) and when a loved one forgets you through no fault of their own. The story of Nina’s father’s dementia is handled with real emotional impact and sensitivity, as was the way Nina comes to terms with it and processes what this means for her and her family unit.

I felt that in Nina, Dolly has captured a really authentic woman in her 30s. From her complex relationship with her mum who often acts more like a friend than a parent to her eternally-single friend Lola and their wonderful dynamic (including the Schadenfreude Shelf) to how things become strained with her childhood friend Katherine (now married and a mother) all the complexities are here.

Dolly’s way with words

Throughout, Dolly’s turn of phrase and the way she describes certain things really makes Ghosts a joy to read. Such as this to describe man Nina is dating:

He bought his entire personality from a cobbled side-road of boutiques in Shoreditch.

I loved Dolly’s memoir, Everything I Know About Love and Ghosts is exactly the debut novel I was hoping she would write. I could relate to a lot of the ideas here, which automatically made me feel attached to the story. Even if you don’t personally relate, the nostalgic nods and laugh-out-loud moments balanced with the more serious ghosting theme and made Ghosts such an addictive read. A fantastic contemporary fiction tale with heart and humour. A TBR addition, for sure.

  • Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC;
  • Published by Fig Tree 15th October 2020;
  • 336 pages;
  • My rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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