Book Review: Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

Written by Julie Dickson

Ghosting: Ending all communication with someone without warning and seemingly falling off the face of the earth. 

Although ghosting is a modern-day colloquial term, it’s something that’s been around for a long time. It was discussed in Sex and the City before the name for it was invented. Does anyone remember that episode where (spoiler) a guy broke up with Carrie Bradshaw via a Post-it Note? She invested all that time into him, but he didn’t even have the decency to break up with her properly. That Post-it is basically the old-fashioned equivalent of ghosting.

Ghosting has been made more prominent and frequent over the past few years due to technology. It’s something we’ve all either done or been a victim of. The latest victim is Nina Dean, the early thirty-something-year-old protagonist of Dolly Alderton’s newly released novel Ghosts. A food writer living in England, she’s at that awkward stage of life where most of her friends are married and having kids. She’s left feeling like a fun twenty-something-year-old, drunk on life, while she’s also fearful that time is running out to settle down as she desperately searches for The One. The novel doesn’t just explore ghosting in the context of a romantic relationship—or even a friendship—it also refers to the painful experience of losing a parent to dementia. This piece began as a book review but has morphed itself into a love letter to Dolly Alderton’s writing voice and Sex and the City. I’m not even sorry. 

As a writer and journalist, Dolly Alderton has a wealth of non-fiction writing experience in the love sector, and her best-selling memoir Everything I Know About Love was published earlier this year to critical acclaim. This experience shines through in Ghosts, making it read almost like a memoir. If Alderton didn’t mention Nina was a food writer, I would have assumed she was a dating columnist. Her thoughts on love echo those of Carrie Bradshaw’s in Sex and the City. There are striking similarities between the two—being an early thirty-something-year-old who is still single, has little to no luck with men, and has to watch from the sidelines as those around her get into serious relationships and leave her behind. At least in Sex and the City, Carrie had her three friends Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte. In Ghosts, Nina’s staple single friend is Lola, who certainly makes up for those three with her massive personality, loud sense of style, ardent loyalty, and blunt takes on love. 

Nina’s anguish is exacerbated by the difficult bond between herself and her parents. Her father becomes a ghost-like figure to her due to his dementia. Nina and her mother have a rocky relationship, and this is further strained with their struggle of how best to look after Nina’s father. It is heartbreaking to see them lose someone they love while he is still alive, and the novel highlights that while keeping the theme of ghosts going. 

Although the topics of ghosting, a parent with dementia, relationship struggles, and friends drifting apart have been recycled and written about numerous times before, Alderton is proof that it can still be successfully written about. It’s a writer’s voice that makes their work stand out from the rest. Alderton’s voice provides a refreshing viewpoint on these tropes. Nina’s observations on the intricacies of life and relationships create a sense of nostalgia and relatability for readers which left me thinking, ‘How did Dolly Alderton get inside my head?’ She cleverly puts all those feelings you’re unable to put into words into, well, words. Her writing has a beautiful flow-on effect which made me want to keep reading.

If you haven’t guessed it already, I recommend this novel for fans of Sex and the City. Even if you’re not a fan of Sex and the City (which you should be), you will still adore this book. Ghosts is now one of my all-time favourite books and the kind of book you wish you’ll be able to experience reading for the first time again.

Ghosts was published on the 15th of October 2020 and is available for purchase here.

Julie Dickson is a Melbourne based writer and editor. She is currently studying a Master of Arts (Children’s Literature) at Deakin University. She is a hardcover book and journal collector and owns way too many planners. You can find her on Instagram @juliedickson.writer

Julie’s work has appeared in the Epilogue, Harmony, Illusion, Taboo, Tension, Retro and Forward editions of WORDLY Magazine.

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