Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

Genre: Romance, contemporary

Published: 2020

No. of Pages: 352

After her bestselling memoir Everything I Know About Love, which quickly became a favourite of mine, Dolly Alderton made her literary fiction debut with Ghosts. And of course, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. 

Ghosts tells the story of thirty-something Nina Dean who is a successful food writer, with wonderful friends and family, living in her new neighbourhood, though her love life is lacking. After joining a dating app, encouraged by her free-spirited best friend Lola, Nina meets Max. A passionate, exciting and seemingly-perfect romance unravels between the two, until Max ‘ghosts’. A colloquial term used amongst Generation Z, or otherwise really cool Millennials, Alderton ensures to display the realities and mishaps of modern dating.   

Alderton approaches the topic of online dating with full candour and relatability. Her narration is quick-witted and humorous as Nina encounters the archetypal male profiles found on dating apps. While Alderton depicts the accessible nature of modern dating, with an abundant of candidates available through a screen, she does not hesitate to portray the emotional and psychological damage it can cause. 

Aside from the hopeless online dating, Ghosts possesses other darker themes, making it atypical of a romance novel. Nina remains cautious of the unnerving neighbour that lives below her, her relationship with her mother is withering, and, most poignantly, Nina is slowly losing her dad to dementia. 

Not only does the title refer to the act of suddenly disappearing, but Ghosts also represents the pervading feeling of nostalgia throughout. Nina longs to relive past memories when life was easy; her childhood home, her dad knowing everything about her, playing netball with Katherine in school. It is this subtle slant that provides Ghosts with a deeper layer of emotion. 

On the brighter side, I loved Alderton’s ability to again make her work relatable to many women. Ghosts includes a variety of well-developed female characters; Nina unlucky in love, Lola who spends all her time dating yet remains single, Katherine a full-time mum expecting another, the restless mother who adopts a new name, and the bride-to-be who eagerly awaits her bright future. These individual stories interwoven throughout not only make the novel multi-faceted by showcasing the different stages and angles of love and life, but allow attachments to evolve between reader and character.

However, as much as I loved this novel, I felt slightly conflicted by it and disappointed. I persistently felt reservations towards Max, struggled to warm to Katherine, and was frustrated that Nina couldn’t truly be happy for her friends or as a single woman. Despite this, Nina’s resilience after being ghosted was admirable and I couldn’t help but want something bigger and better for her. The ending left me with a bittersweet and unsatisfied feeling.

Overall, the prose of Ghosts reads effortlessly, with the perfect dose of satire and endearing moments, light-hearted and darker themes, making the book extremely addictive. Alderton’s social commentary encourages readers to look at love – romantic, familial, and within friendships – at a deeper level.  

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