In Ghosts by Dolly Alderton, we meet Nina, a successful food writer, on her 32nd birthday and the start of “the strangest” year of her life. What follows is 365 days of ghosts in every metaphorical sense: the online ghosts who profess their love and then vanish; the ghost of her father as he succumbs to dementia; the ghost of her twenties; and the ghosts of past female friendships as those around her fall into motherhood and marriage.
Ghosts is a timely novel that taps into the zeitgeist of modern dating. Until a couple of months ago, I had managed to resist the lure of dating apps. That being so, I felt Nina’s struggle as she endeavoured to navigate the digital dating world. Over the two weeks that I read this, it was uncanny how my life mirrored hers. I swiped as Nina swiped, I dated as Nina did, and…the whole being ghosted thing. Dolly’s words struck a chord with me as I’m sure they will for every other millennial woman.
I will never understand ghosting. How easily silence can make women feel like they are losing their minds and that they have “scared them off”. It leaves you in a void of uncertainty. Your eyes habitually flicker towards your phone. Your heart hammers when new notifications ping through, only to feel dejected when they still leave you in the lurch. Alternatively, if a man professes his love or is more forward with you, it’s romantic. Dolly depicts this frustrating modern reality and more with brutal honesty, astuteness, and tenderness.
“Real human people can’t be deleted. We are not living in dystopian science fiction.”
Although Ghosts is at times sad and realistic about the disappointments of life, it isn’t without its laughs or tender moments. For instance, the commentary on the struggles of being ‘the single friend’, the four-hour wait between reading and replying to text messages, and dating app clichés – from napping dog lovers and world travellers to the pineapple on pizza controversialists. Alternatively, any fan of Dolly Alderton will recognise snippets of her in this book – musical references, classic British food, her signature one-liners.
Finally, Dolly’s attentive descriptions and ability to bring humour into the mundane are what I adore most about her writing. The minute details and quirks incorporated within her sugar-sweet prose are evocative, often nostalgic, and only render her novel more relatable.
Overall, Ghosts is a moving and clever debut with a host of charming characters and brutally amusing social commentary — I’m already excited to reread this one over the years.
Thank you, Penguin, for sending me an advanced copy of Ghosts by Dolly Alderton in exchange for an honest review.
Looking for more reading recommendations? Read my review of Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart.