That Nina has been single since she parted from a jovial if unfunny chap called Joe is not helped by the fact that Joe is blissfully settled with Nina’s anodyne replacement — ain’t it always the way? So Nina decides to give internet dating another chance. And to know more you must read this masterpiece of modern manners.
Alderton’s life-enriching social anthropology will be the antidote for flagging spirits in the next lockdown. And if women were men, there would be a line of ardent suitors at her door.
In Ghosts, the social commentary is often showcased in satirical set pieces where, occasionally, slightly laboured jokes undermine the overall comic force. Nevertheless, these comic turns often made me chuckle: the depiction of a hen do dominated by a passive-aggressive maid of honour is brilliant...The depiction of her mother’s reaction to her new role as a carer – a brittle but steadfast denial that there is a problem – also makes for effectively unsettling reading that tests the boundaries of what used to be called chick-lit. It would be good to see this element of her writing – the difficult, the ambivalent – find an even fuller voice in Alderton’s subsequent novels.
It is fitting that the novel is titled Ghosts because I felt myself quite haunted throughout, mostly by the spirit of Maeve Binchy. Binchy was truly one of this country’s greatest writers; I doubt anyone would deny it. I proudly display almost the entirety of Binchy’s bibliography on my bookshelves. Her novels are modest epics, always full of heart and brazenly progressive for their era. Would we even have Normal People if it weren’t for Echoes? Binchy’s influence is immense and far-reaching, especially upon the genre in which Ghosts lays its claim. And it fills me with nothing but sadness that on these grand foundations lies a hovel.
Unlike much commercial fiction, Ghosts admirably eschews overneat plotting or too-pat conclusions. This open-endedness may, however, dent its narrative drive. Or perhaps this is due to the resilience of Nina as a character, who falters, but never seems at any real risk of flailing — she is always the coolest observer in the room. Her prologue flags “the strangest year of my life”, but what follows is less an off-kilter adventure than a grounded account of growing-up pains.
A wiser, if hardly wizened, fictional companion to Alderton’s millennial memoir, this is a promising, deftly written, often entertaining and poignant debut novel.
If your twenties are the second adolescence, then your thirties are when the rubber hits the road – when ‘adulting’ (that worst of words) ends and adulthood begins. The title of the book might be a reference to the cruel dating habit of ‘ghosting’ – when a person you’re seeing disappears very suddenly with no explanation – but really this is less a book about courtship than one about the tricky transitional phase of early thirties life, when friendship groups splinter and shift and life choices are put under the microscope. Alderton tackles it beautifully.