Let me put my cards on the table – I did not enjoy Everything I Know About Love. The raved about memoir by Dolly Alderton won a National Book Award for Autobiography of the Year and has countless high praising reviews… but let’s just say it wasn’t for me. I struggled to find its purpose and simply didn’t enjoy the narrative. So perhaps it’s surprising that I was so excited to read Dolly’s debut novel, Ghosts. And maybe even more surprising, that I absolutely loved it.
As expected, when the novel was announced I didn’t exactly rush to pre-order, but when I heard her interviewed on one of my usual Podcast listens Off Menu, the plot piqued my interest. A story intertwining friends, family, romance and self-exploration, it surprisingly sounded right up my street. I decided to trust some early reviews and give it a read, and I am so glad I gave it a chance.
Ghosts is written from the perspective of Nina Dean, a food writer living in London who turns thirty-two years old in the novel’s prologue, taking us through the ‘weirdest year’ of her life. Her dad is disappearing from her to dementia, she’s struggling to connect to her best friend who now only talks about being a mum, and her ex-boyfriend is moving on with his life without her. In enters Max, the charming and romantic love interest – but in this world of deleting and ‘ghosting’, is he too good to be true?
Ghosts isn’t a simple love story – and it certainly isn’t the ‘rom com’ style, happily-ever-after kind. A range of romantic relationships are explored including from Nina’s relations with her current boyfriend, and her ex that she remains good friends with, but also of her friend Lola who has been in the dating game for a decade, the complacent marriage of her best friend Katherine, and the changing dynamics of her parents’ relationship as her mum struggles to cope with her dad’s illness. Touching upon the subject of Nina’s dad’s dementia, Dolly explores the impact of past events and memories of a person, including returning to an old family home and eating childhood foods, which I found very insightful.
The novel is packed with hilarious quips and observations about life, as the character Nina experiences her current boyfriend meeting her ex, being single at a wedding, and discovering she is living in a flat above a psychopath (or so she thinks). Even Dolly as the author doesn’t take herself too seriously, describing one character as someone who reads ‘overhyped memoirs written by women under thirty having feeble epiphanies about themselves’ – a gentle mockery of her own success that made me laugh out loud.
The novel reminded me so much of a couple of my favourites I read last year; Expectation by Anna Hope, and Olive by Emma Gannon. They are cut from the same cloth – witty female protagonist(s) living in London, dealing with their friends moving on without them and struggling to keep the bonds they once shared. If you’ve already read either of those, I can promise you now that you will love Ghosts – and likewise if you haven’t read them yet, and are looking for something else after reading Ghosts, I am pointing you in the perfect direction!
My first read for 2021 was one of the best books I have read recently, a solid 4.5 star read and a great way kick off the year. I would love to hear what your first read of 2021 was, (or maybe will be if you haven’t got round to it yet) and what else you are planning to read this year!