Book Review: Ghosts by Dolly Alderton (2020)

Nina is a 32-year-old food writer who’s at a point in her life where everything is slowly changing around her. She’s one of the last in her friendship group to be single whilst her best friend is married and expecting a second child. Her mother is getting really involved with various trends and her father is suffering from dementia. On the night of her 32nd birthday, Nina sets up a profile on an online dating website and starts talking with Max. At the end of their first date Max tells Nina that he will marry her (YES, I know, that’s what we commonly call a big old red flag 🚩). They date for a few months and gradually Max disappears from Nina’s life…

Like most millennial women, I love The High Low podcast (which sadly ended last week) and its two host, Pandora Sykes and Dolly Alderton. I think they’re both funny and I like the way they think. I read Dolly’s memoir Everything I Know About Love a couple of years ago, but I did not like it. To be honest, I never finished it and ended up donating it to my local charity shop so that someone could give it some love. I know this has been very popular and many women could relate to Dolly’s early life, but I really could not bear to read it further. I liked the writing style but Alderton’s experience is too far remote from my own experience, and I really do struggle reading about people who stubbornly choose to do the wrong thing – and there was also way too much drinking, which is fair enough for her but a personal trigger for me. This book made me so angry, I thought it’d be wiser to stop reading it. Nonetheless, I really like Dolly Alderton and her writing so I was really excited to read her debut novel, Ghosts, which focuses on modern dating and ghosting – this phenomenon where someone suddenly stops replying to your messages and calls. This is something I have experienced and it’s so strange and confusing… you never know what actually happened to the person – they could be dead for all you know – but they’re still very present in your head.

Of course, since the title hints at several ghosts, Nina is haunted by much more than the absence of Max. There is first her dad and the ghost of who he used to be, then there is her best friend and the ghost of their friendship, and finally the ghost of Nina’s past when everything seemed easier and sweeter. I am a little younger than Nina but I could really relate to this period of confusion she experiences, feeling apart from her friends, and at a loss when it comes to her family. I think that her relationship with her mum was especially interesting because you can tell that they do love each other, but they have an extremely complicated relationship and deal with the crisis in completely different ways. Their relationship felt very real and strong, it’s not often that I read about a beautifully nuanced mother/daughter relationship.

To me Ghosts is like one of those romcoms from the 80s/90s that can be very funny and romantic, but have more depth than you would first expect. We really needed a 21st century version, so thank you Dolly Alderton! This is a very modern novel in the fact that it portrays a realistic version of online dating. It’s not too exaggerated and over the top as you can sometimes see, but technology and texts are an essential element of Nina’s life – as it is for most of us. I was a little scared that online dating would be represented in a silly, exaggerated way but it really is well depicted – the strangeness of it all and the magic that happens when you finally click with someone. Obviously, this is all the more traumatising when the person you are dating stops responding altogether and you have no idea whether they’re still alive. I experienced something similar in a friendship and the way Nina feels was so vividly portrayed, I felt I was back a few years ago wondering what I could have possibly done wrong to hurt this friend who suddenly stopped talking to me. Like Nina, you feel at a loss as to why Max decided to disappear from her life because he was about to meet her parents and had just told her that he loved her. And then suddenly, nothing.

Since Ghosts is a modern take on the traditional romcom, the ending might not necessarily be satisfying for everyone. I thought Alderton’s message was very uplifting but there were a few things at the end that made me frown a little, I think we could’ve easily done without those… and I’m pretty sure that anyone who’s read this book will know what I’m talking about. Overall I liked Nina’s story but as I would like watching a feel-good film on a rainy afternoon, and I’m not sure I will remember much from it in a few months. I still would recommend reading this novel, you’ll spend a nice time in its company but don’t expect too much from it, just take it as it is – a pleasant read about modern dating and friendship.

Have you read this book? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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