BOOK CLUB #1
GHOSTS BY DOLLY ALDERTON
Nina George Dean is haunted by the ghosts of her past: Bygone relationships, fading friendships, a crumbling family. When Max shows up, she becomes one of them.
The year between her 32nd and 33rd birthday is a lot to take in for Nina George Dean. Her boyfriend-turned-friend Joe is in a new relationship with a girl Nina struggles to bond with. Katherine, her best and oldest friend, has already traded girls nights for nappies and her liberal mindset for a suburban mum-brain, in which only marriage, babies and married friends with babies seem to have any significance. And on top of all this, Nina feels increasing pressure not only to start a family of her own but also to care for her parents as her dad is descending into dementia and her mum into an unpleasant state of denial.
The only two redeeming features in Nina’s life are her successful writing career and Lola, her fellow single, who is filling the void Katherine left and takes on the role as the reliable friend who hasn’t been fitted with a humour bypass just yet. Being Nina's companion in the quest that unmarried life in your thirties apparently is, she convinces her to sign up to a dating app. When Nina meets the perfect man on there, she can't believe her luck. But, as it turns out and as the Rolling Stones concluded sharply in 1969, you can’t always get what you want. And neither does Nina, but if she tries sometimes, she might find she gets what she needs...
Though millennials will probably relate to the world of Ghosts in an instant since all the characters are 30 and above, I, a 24-year-old millennial-Gen-Z-hybrid enjoyed the book more than any other novel I’ve read recently. And I could work out three reasons why.
"I think I've created a version of him too. Or maybe that's all that love is. So much is how we perceive someone and the memories we have of them, rather than the facts of who they are."
A Perfect Fiction
I’m going to claim that Ghosts is the perfect fiction. The book has different storylines that all centre around Nina, the main character. The plot lines do cross sometimes but they hardly have any impact on each other. What makes them so special is not a carefully constructed plot net that makes perfect sense when it all comes together in the end and leaves you paralysed for another week after finishing the book. With Ghosts, it's how weirdly real they seem.
Nothing about the story seems crafted; all of it could be taken straight out of someone's life: the happenings and turns of events are neither overly dramatic nor painfully romantic. Some of the story lines have “happy endings” but most of them don’t, and it doesn’t feel like a tragedy; it feels like a novelised version of someone's actual life. And because it doesn't feel crafted, it is impossible to tell what's going to happen next. Ghosts reads like an extension of Dolly Alderton’s debut, Everything I Know About Love (2018), and I wanted it to never end.
Observations and Detail
I didn't just love the casualness with which the story is told but also particularly the sheer mass of observations and fundamental truths to be found in every inner monologue and every conversation. Dolly Alderton examines and assesses the nature of long-term relationships with partners, family and friends, and plates up her findings so perfectly that you can't help but nod and exclaim "YES, thank you!", " SO TRUE!" or "Omg she's actually right..." every time you come across one.
She puts them in the characters, which are probably part of our lives too: the ex-boyfriend you agreed to remain friends with. An old friendship that is slipping through your fingers. The single friend whose existence you're unbelievably grateful for when everyone around you is in a relationship. Your stoic mother, your ill dad. Your angelic and your devilish neighbour. Dolly Alderton has done it again: another book that's so entertaining just on account of its relatability.
"If there is one visible warning sign that a friendship has become faulty, it's the point when you realize you only ever want to go to the cinema with them. And not dinner and cinema - I mean meeting outside the Leicester Square Odeon ten minutes before a specifically late showing of a film, then having a 'quick catch-up' during the trailers and an excuse to leave as soon as it's over because all the pubs are about to close. [...] It is the lingering, looming sense that something is no longer working, pervaded by a reluctance to fix it."
Relatability (and the lack thereof)
Relatability. You might say now, ‘How is a 24-year-old going to relate to a book about life in your thirties?’ - a fair enough question. Let me tell you about how the book is especially comforting for people in their early and mid-twenties. Remember the millennial-Gen-Z hybrids I mentioned earlier? Yeah, so, that’s us. Hi!
While we can definitely relate to the human chasms and the challenge of maintaining long-term friendship, we probably can’t quite yet relate to the struggle of ageing parents and the societal pressure to get married and have children. Which is a very big reason this book feels like a comfort-blanket. While it does tell us it’s okay if life isn’t what you planned it to be and that marriage doesn't warrant a happy life, it also represents the struggle that a childless, unmarried woman in her thirties is put through and that these existential thoughts and worries haunt women more than men.
The book says it quite clearly: as a woman, you are given two choices. 1) find a man, marry and have children and 2) come to terms with the fact that you’ll die a spinster. Single male thirtysomethings, on the other hand, tend to be irresponsible, immature and self-centred man-children, who are either chasing women and break their hearts because they don’t want to settle or they lack the responsibility that it takes if you do choose to have a family.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that it is quite comforting to know that I’m still a few years away from this apparently imminent disaster. You can read it and learn from the mistakes the characters make. All of this sounds very dramatic and gloomy probably, but as with real life, you will cry but you'll also laugh - a lot. Ghosts is a great read.
'I'm worried I'm not going to live the life I always thought I'd live. I'm worried I have to come up with a new plan.' 'There's no point coming up with a plan,' he said, shaking his head sternly. 'Life is what happens...' 'I know that clever women aren't meant to worry about having a family. And I know I still have time. But I'm scared that if I don't plan for it, it will never happen.' He shrugged. 'It might not ever happen.' I found the starkness of this fact strangely comforting. No one had ever said it to me before. Everyone had always said, in one way or another, that I could have whatever I wanted.