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Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

I’d been waiting for this all year.

My wonderful best mate, Ruth, bought it for me as a surprise. I’d bought her Dolly’s memoir Everything I know about love last year and demanded she read it immediately.

So naturally, I was eagerly anticipating her debut novel, Ghosts.

“Nina Dean has arrived at her early thirties as a successful food writer with loving friends and family, plus a new home and neighbourhood. When she meets Max, a beguiling romantic hero who tells her on date one that he’s going to marry her, it feels like all is going to plan”.

I had Wham! Edge of Heaven playing on an endless loop reading this – a birthday tradition because it was number one on the day Nina was born. To be fair it is a tune, but it reminds me of the time I was in the running to be worst waitress of the year at the hotel I worked in in Leeds, it was on one of the three CDs the restaurant had for ‘mood’ music. Never before had I thought a song about BDSM as being a strange choice for restaurant mood music, I did think the ‘Yeah, Yeah Yeahs’ were a rather energetic accompaniment for people tucking into seabass or a steak – I digress, there’s a lot to Ghosts so I’d better crack on.

For anyone who thinks this is just about dating – internet dating specifically – it’s not, it cleverly deals with all types of ‘Ghosts’ millennial women come up against; aging, relationships, family, friendships and youth to name a few.

Nina is looking for love, it’s a couple of years since she broke up with her ex, who she’s still good friends with. She meets Max on a dating app called Lynx, they hit off, have fun, it gets quite relationshippy fairly quickly. It seems too good to be true and it is, after three months together, he completely disappears, there’s no trace, he ignores her messages and phone calls and ghosts her – what an absolutely delightful 21stcentury trend.

“Real human people can’t be deleted. We are not living in a dystopian science fiction”. Dolly Alderton.

Women will read this and think ‘I hear you’ – I’ve not had to endure dating, thank the heavens and all the angels, clearly I know women who have. I’ve had friends who’ve been ‘ghosted’ and left asking ‘what did I do wrong?’, it’s a shitty way to signal that you’re a coward. Alderton perfectly depicts those feelings of confusion, anger and sadness coupled with a feeling of time ‘running out’ – something women in their thirties will be all too aware of, we seem to be told that every 3.9 seconds.

“You know every time you ‘change your mind’ in such an extreme way, it takes something from a woman. It’s an act of theft. It’s not just a theft of her trust, it’s a theft of her time. You’ve taken things from her, so you could have a fun few months.” Dolly Alderton

Nina’s take down of Jethro after he ghosts her best friend Lola is perfect, who hasn’t been apoplectic with rage on behalf of their friend? I know I have.

I’m aware it sounds like ALL men have been painted negatively, it isn’t a man hating book, there are good men unfortunately for Nina and Lola – Max and Jethro aren’t them. This is a realistic look at modern dating, that recognises just how different things are for single men and single women in their thirties, the realisation that Jethro will simply move onto a lower age range is quite brutally honest. Sad but true.

The relationships Nina has with friends and family are far from straight forward. Her dad has dementia, which, she and her mum are struggling to come terms with it. Her mum’s reaction to the diagnosis is to have a mid-life crisis, change her name to Mandy and pretend it isn’t happening. Nina is much more practical, wants to put things in place. It takes a lot for mum to admit that things maybe are getting a bit too difficult to deal with and actually how heartbroken and sad she is, she’s also struggling with the new role of carer.

I recognised the confusion of what to do with dementia diagnosis, families are often left wondering ‘what happens now?’, there’s no right or wrong answer, no one knows what they’re doing.

The changing dynamics of female friendship as we get older hit a nerve, it’s thought provoking and poignant. Nina feels she and Catherine are drifting apart, the latter is now a mum and moving to the suburbs. Catherine feels Nina is too much drama. Neither of them behave particularly well towards the other, both fail to see things from the other’s perspective. It reminded me of the female friendships in Olive by Emma Gannon, how friendships inevitably change, people make different choices, no one is the same person we were as a teenager. Ultimately – in most cases – that strong bond remains the same because sometimes you need the only person in the world who can name every crush you’ve ever had and has a photographic memory of every embarrassing thing you’ve ever done.

It is a poignant, funny, novel, that many women will relate to. Could the characters feel a bit flat? In places, yes, but I did like them, and they were recognisable. Ghosts real strength is the lesson it leaves you with…..how to treat people.

Whether it’s someone you’re dating, your oldest friend, your mum, the neighbour downstairs, be nice. Take a moment to see things from the other side and just don’t be a dick.

Final thought – I loved Nina being an usher her at ex’s wedding – mostly because I too have been curious about what the guy side of a wedding is like. I suspect it’s a pretty chilled affair.

Oh, and Franny the maid of honour……spot on.

radiosarahc View All

Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm

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