Tuesday, January 4, 2022

"Ghosts" by Dolly Alderton

My first read of 2022 was "Ghosts," the first novel by British journalist & podcaster Dolly Alderton, the December choice of the Gateway Women/NoMo book club. We'll be discussing this book in a Zoom chat on Saturday. :) 

Nina Dean is 32 years old and recovering from the demise of a longtime relationship. She's become a successful food writer and purchased her own flat in London -- but all around her, her friends are getting married, starting families and moving to the suburbs. With the help of her quirky/kooky friend Lola, she enters the strange new world of online dating... and hits the jackpot on her very first match (or so she thinks). Max is gorgeous, attentive and immediately tells her he's going to marry her on their first date. 

And then -- after a few glorious months together -- he disappears from her life.   

On the surface, this could be classified as "chick lit" or "romcom" -- it has many of the usual elements -- but there's an edginess to the writing -- elements of serious social commentary, along with the comedy -- that sets it apart from the usual light-hearted chick-lit/romcom fare. Single childless woman will no doubt relate to Nina's sharp-eyed observations about single life, loneliness, relationships and friendships. In Chapter 15, she delivers a rant to her childhood best friend Katherine (now married with children) that will ring true for many childless women. (It did for me!) She also delivers a diatribe to Lola's ex-boyfriend in Chapter 19 that I think many women would love to deliver to the commitment-phobic men-children in their lives, too. 

I was particularly fascinated/horrified by Chapter 11, in which Nina & Lola attend a bizarre girls' weekend known as a "hen do." I think the closest equivalent here in North America would be a bachelorette party? -- I got married in the days before "bachelorettes" became a "thing" (versus more staid/traditional bridal showers -- I had two small ones) -- thank goodness?! -- and I've never been to one, so I'm not entirely sure if that's an apt comparison. In some ways, it was hilarious, but I also felt like I was in some kind of weird nightmare while reading it too. ;)    

I enjoyed Nina's relationship with her pre-Max ex, Joe, as well as her relationship with her father, who has dementia/Alzheimer's. Like Nina, I found her mother irritating (especially at first) -- but ultimately found myself identifying with her. (After all, I'm closer to her age than to Nina's. Gulp.)  I liked that the ending was happy/upbeat -- albeit perhaps not the one you might expect. Although -- (mild spoiler alert, perhaps) -- as soon as I read a certain line in the opening Prologue, I knew what was ultimately going to happen in the book (with one plotline, anyway). I was right. ;)

4 stars on Goodreads. 

*** *** *** 

A couple of passages that I bookmarked, because I loved the writing: 

  • The next morning, with the sort of hangover that makes you google ashrams... (Chapter 6) 
  • The original plan was for Katherine to come to my flat to help me choose a paint colour for my bathroom, then go for a walk and lunch nearby, but at the last minute she said she couldn't do the journey because of a childcare glitch. I was totally unsurprised -- such is the superior trump card of motherhood that she once cancelled dinner with me an hour before we were meant to meet via a text explaining she had to "wake up in the morning etc." -- as if being childless gave me an option of not existing for the day. (Chapter 6) 
  • "No one remotely f***able is going to be on a train to Godalming, trust me," I said. (Chapter 11) 
  • "Fizz," I said. "That word is only ever used in a room full of women who all secretly hate each other." (Chapter 11) 
  • Katherine looked exquisite in high-necked pale-yellow silk that poured over her pregnancy bump like hollandaise on a perfectly poached egg. (Chapter 13) 
  • Seven rows of two bridesmaids, in various arrangements of the same grey viscose, came down the aisle carrying pink peonies, all looking incredibly pleased to be in the chosen cohort. We're very much a sisterhood -- I could never get on board with this sort of girl-gang feminism, the groups of female friends who called themselves things like "the coven" on social media and exhibited moral superiority from simply having a weekly brunch with each other. Having friends doesn't make you a feminist;  going on about female friendship doesn't make you a feminist. (Chapter 13) 
  • Performative, public baby-holding had become a competitive sport for childless women at events over the last five years. We all hoped for those three words to be passed over to us by an Adjudicator of Maternal Qualification like Katherine. You're a natural. (Chapter 13) 
  • "This is what they fought for," I said. "All those women before us who were married off and locked up in a house with no voice or money or freedom. This is what they wanted. For a group of professional women to all wave their engagement rings around like it's a Nobel Prize." (Chapter 13) 
  • He had bought his entire personality from a cobbled side-road of boutiques in Shoreditch. (Chapter 19) 

This was Book #1 read to date in 2022 (and Book #1 finished in January), bringing me to 2% (!) of my 2022 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 1 book ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2022 tagged as "2022 books."  

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