In brief: Nina’s life isn’t going completely to plan. While she’s successful at work and has great friends, a relationship has eluded her for years. But when she meets Max, things seem perfect – right?
The good: Both fun and sad.
The not-so-good: The subplot with the neighbour didn’t quite fall into place for me.
Why I chose it: Christmas present.
Publisher: Fig Tree (Penguin)
Rating: 9 out of 10
Dolly Alderton’s Ghosts is a worthy addition to fiction about women not having it all – career, love, family and friends. It’s clever and takes a more realistic look at dating and ageing family, balancing the down times with fun and frivolity. Some of it works brilliantly, some of it is a bit weird but that’s life.
Nina is doing well on the career front. She’s been able to give up teaching for her passion, food writing and buy a London flat too. She has a great, quirky friend in Lola and a friend from high school (Katherine) who she’s drifting away from. Nina is even great mates with her ex and his new partner. But her dad has dementia, her mum seems intent on living life like she’s in her twenties and she’s single. Until she joins a dating app and meets Max. It’s all going very well, very quickly. Even though her publisher hates her new book idea and her neighbour is from hell, it doesn’t matter. Not until things take an unexpected turn on several fronts as fading relationships, her dad’s illness and the cringeworthy hen’s weekend come to the fore. Will Nina still end up with it all?
Ghosts is a well-blended combination of seriousness and serious issues and outright fun. It’s got something that anyone can relate to – the best friend who now only wants to talk children and houses and is frustrated when Nina won’t/can’t do the same and the realisation that not everything will be perfect by a set date and age. There is a great analogy in the book about men being like PlayStations, with the aim to complete the level and the game and move on. It will resonate with anyone who has ticked off achievements in that exact way. The online dating, agony over texts and WhatsApp status will be familiar to many of this generation. I also enjoyed that Ghosts was about more than just Nina ticking off the relationship with Max and that Max wasn’t the sole focus of the novel. There are a couple of subplots that didn’t fit in quite as well, such as the conclusion of Nina’s argument with her neighbour. It felt forced (as did her ‘prank’ on him and his parcels) and just out of character for both Nina and the novel. I also thought the differences between Nina and her mum were wrapped up a bit too quickly and nicely.
There is a good level of detail in the characters, plot and setting of Ghosts. The way it focuses on multiple areas of Nina’s life keeps the reader interested and the contemporary themes keep it fresh.