Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Ghost In Love

The Ghost in Love
By: Jonathon Carroll
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Language: English
September 2008, $24.99
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy

A man falls in the snow, hits his head on a curb, and dies. But something strange occurs: the man doesn’t die, and the ghost that’s been sent to take his soul to the afterlife is flabbergasted. Going immediately to its boss, the ghost asks, what should I do now? The boss says, we don’t know how this happened but we’re working on it. We want you to stay with this man to help us figure out what’s going on.

The ghost agrees unhappily; it is a ghost, not a nursemaid. But a funny thing happens—the ghost falls madly in love with the man’s girlfriend, and things naturally get complicated. Soon afterward, the man discovers he did not die when he was “supposed” to because for the first time in their history, human beings have decided to take their fates back from the gods. It’s a wonderful change, but one that comes at a price.

The Ghost in Love is about what happens to us when we discover that we have become the masters of our own fate. No excuses, no outside forces or gods to blame—the responsibility is all our own. It’s also about love, ghosts that happen to be gourmet cooks, talking dogs, and picnicking in the rain with yourself at twenty different ages.


I am not sure what I was expecting when I picked this up. Blurbs from Neil Gaiman and Stephen King exalting Carroll and that happy little back cover description certainly piqued my interest. I have not read any of Carroll’s other novels so I wasn’t sure what I was going to get it. It wound up being one of those books that I couldn’t stop reading and that induced its own sort of happy insomnia as I read it in the wee hours of the morning. It was a book that made me think, that made me laugh and smile and spurred my imagination. It short, it was great.

But how to explain the book? And will everyone like it? It’s one of those books that you can’t quite explain, can’t quite categorize without it sounding a bit too quirky for most people’s tastes. After all you have the lead character who can talk to his dog, see ghosts as well as himself when he’s a kid and a ghost who loves to cook and who has fallen in love with the lead’s girlfriend. Is there humor? Yes, a lot of it, but there is also a poignancy I didn’t expect to find. The book is about love both concerning other people and more importantly yourself. It’s about fate and destiny and what happens when you take control of your own life and destiny. It is about life and death and everything that happens in between and what you make of those all too brief moments.

One thing I also enjoyed was the prose itself. Sometimes you read an author whose descriptions give you perfectly clear images in your head, where they describe why a character falls in love with someone and you cannot help but do the same. Carroll is one of those authors. His prose was a joy to read as much as the story itself was. The last time I had that much fun reading the actual words was Diane Setterfield’s Thirteenth Tale which is one of my favorite books from last year and one of my top 25 of all time.

The plot isn’t anything new: someone dies before they are supposed to or somehow escapes the system and what happens afterward. However, I loved the way Carroll made it his own. But some people may not like it. They may find it pretentious and a bit too over the top. I just was not one of those people. I found it charming. I found it philosophical and lovely. I found it fantastic. Great read. I second Gaiman's love for Carroll. Now I have to go find some more of his books.

3.75 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks

Have your own review? Let me know and I will post it.


MKS said...

'The Ghost in Love' is a wonderful book and you conveyed its unique qualities beautifully.

If you are looking for another JC recommendation, I urge you to pick up 'The Land of Laughs'; it is what made me a lifelong fan of the writer.

Easily one of my favorite books ever.

Phantom of Pulp said...

I second this recommendation, especially in light of the fact that MKS is me (posted under the wrong pseud).

The British paperback, BTW, has an amazing cover illustration.

Mark Newton said...

I find that Jonathan Carroll is a bit like sinking into a hot bath. There's something effortless but well-crafted about his writing, and his characters have that too-good-to-be-true quality about them. Not that they're unrealistic; just that they're... perfectly flawed.