Wednesday 4 November 2020

Book Review: Ghosts by Dolly Alderton.

Product details
Publisher: Fig Tree. 
Release date: October 15th 2020.
Hardcover, 336 pages. 
Rating: 3½ out of 5. 
Source: Received from publisher for review.

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.

A new relationship couldn't have come at a better time - her thirties have not been the liberating, uncomplicated experience she was sold. Everywhere she turns, she is reminded of time passing and opportunities dwindling. Friendships are fading, ex-boyfriends are moving on and, worse, everyone's moving to the suburbs. There's no solace to be found in her family, with a mum who's caught in a baffling mid-life makeover and a beloved dad who is vanishing in slow-motion into dementia.

Dolly Alderton's debut novel is funny and tender, filled with whip-smart observations about relationships, family, memory, and how we live now. 

 Ghosts, the witty and whimsical debut novel from journalist Dolly Alderton, follows a year in the life of Nina Dean, a thirtysomething food writer, who is looking for love.

All of Nina’s friends are coupled-up and settling down. At 32 she’s one of one two singles in her friendship group, along with Lola, a ten-year-veteran of the online dating scene. Nina spent most of her twenties coupled-up with safe-but-boring Joe, until they mutually realised, as long-term couples often do, that they had firmly entered the friend zone. In the time since their split, Nina hasn’t dated anyone, Joe is soon to be married, and they remain firm friends.

With a happy home and work life in place, Nina is ready to re-enter the dating scene. And so she downloads an app.

Nina’s very first match is a guy called Max. Max is ruggedly handsome, charming in his way, and on their first date, he tells Nina he’s going to marry her (run, Nina, run!) Nina doesn’t run. Instead she finds herself falling fast for Max. Weeks turn to months, and then one night, Max tells Nina he loves her. The very next day he goes cold on her, taking hours to respond to her texts. Then one day, Max simply stops returning her calls. He won’t answer her texts either. He simply cuts off all contact. Over a few bottles of wine, Lola tells Nina she’s been ‘ghosted.’ She needs to move on with her life; forget about Max. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

Nina’s got bigger things to worry about than men that seemingly vanish into thin air. Namely her dad, whose memories are being consumed by dementia, making their relationship one where time is rapidly running out, and every time might be the last time. Secondary to this, Nina’s relationship with her one-time best friend Katherine has taken a hit since Katherine became a mum. Now their weekly catch-ups are about as much fun as a trip to the dentist. Simply put, at this point in their lives, Nina and Katherine have nothing in common. Nina thought that her friendship with Katherine was something she could rely on, a constant in her life. Now she’s not so sure. It’s seems like everyone is moving on, everyone except for Nina. Even Lola has a new boyfriend. And there’s still no sign of Max. The absence of Max in Nina’s life is really no loss. The men in this novel, it must be said, are all-round awful.

As a long-time reader of Dolly Alderton’s journalism, and a fan of her memoir Everything I Know About Love, I had high expectations for her debut novel. Maybe, in fact, I set my expectations too high.  Alderton stays firmly in familiar territory in Ghosts as she details the lives, loves and tribulations of online dating in your early thirties. Hen parties and weddings are covered in detail, as in her memoir, and female friendships factor hugely; female friendships and the dialogue surrounding them is something Alderton excels at, but I have to admit I was hoping for something new and different from Ghosts.

Despite my quibbles, I found Ghosts to be an overall enjoyable read, maybe not as standout as I was hoping for, but heart-warming and humorous in all the right places, nonetheless.

I look forward to reading whatever Dolly Alderton writes next.

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