Ghosts by Dolly Alderton was released in October 2020. The novel has already achieved Sunday Times bestseller status.
There has been considerable social media hype surrounding Alderton’s debut novel due to the success of her autobiography Everything I Know About Love, in 2018.
Alderton’s latest work is a fictional exploration of the modern phenomenon of ghosting. Ghosting takes place over social media when someone suddenly stops replying to your texts, DMs, calls or emails.
The Macmillan online dictionary has updated its definition of ghosting to include ‘the practice of ending a relationship by simply disappearing, without any explanation’. Ghosting is similar to airing, but there is a greater sense of ambiguity.
Ghosts focuses on the story of Nina – a 32 year old food writer – and her friendships, family, and love life. Nina is encouraged by her friend Lola to delve into the world of online dating via an app named ‘Linx’.
Nina, perhaps slightly unrealistically, has immediate success on the app. The first date she arranges via Linx is with Max and they have instant chemistry. During the course of the date they chat about the app, and Nina reflects that ‘it struck me that the only event where it’s appropriate to talk about the reason you’re at the event is a funeral.’
The first date is followed by several others, and eventually Max and Nina become an exclusive couple. But there is a pervading sense that everything is ‘too good to be true’, and following their first declarations of ‘I love you’ the relationship takes a difficult turn.
Nina and Max share a moment of intimacy by her childhood house. The next day Max stops replying to Nina’s messages. Alderton includes a section which details their text communication (or lack thereof). Nina’s messages and calls go unanswered for weeks on end. The weeks then roll into months.
The inclusion of their text communication struck me as a realistic and raw part of the novel. It felt very similar to texts I’ve seen before and helped my mates to draft. Ghosting is a painful experience that leaves the other person left clueless. Individuals often find that the ‘ghoster’ lives in their mind ‘rent free’ for months after the communication is cut off.
We follow Nina’s experience after Max has cut off all ties and how bewildered she feels. Lola and Nina discuss modern dating, ghosting, and love at length at various points in the novel. Lola shares her ‘theory’ on ghosting and how men who are brought up with ‘Playstations and Game Boys’ view dating as just another challenge with levels to complete.
Ultimately, ghosting is to do with the ghoster’s own inability to communicate how they feel in a mature way. The ghoster hides behind their screen, and emotions instead of engaging in any difficult conversations.
The title of the novel invites the reader to centralise the idea of ghosting, but Ghosts is also a story of enduring friendship, family strains and personal acceptance. We celebrate Nina’s success with her publications, and we experience the difficult changes in her personal life. The onset of her father’s Alzeihemer’s disease and her argument with Katherine are also navigated within the novel.
Max re-enters Nina’s life and they attempt to resolve some of the problems at the core of their relationship. But Max is unable to communicate and he ghosts once again.
Alderton is able to create an intimate level of emotional involvement between the reader and Nina in her novel by her use of the first-person. We see the world as Nina sees it, and become invested in her story, and severely frustrated with Max’s inability to communicate.
The fictional exploration of the modern phenomenon of ghosting is an arresting part of the novel. But the moments of intimacy shared between friends and family members struck me as more heartfelt than any soppy romantic gesture. The difficult conversation Nina and her mum engage in about her dad’s Alzeiheimer’s at the hospital is one of the most moving sections of the novel.
Ghosts and Everything I Know About Love both centralise the importance of friendship, and in particular women’s friendship. This focus is an aspect of Alderton’s writing that I love, and I hope to see more of in her future work.
If you want to check out more of Dolly Alderton’s work have a listen to the High Low podcast with Pandora Sykes (which has sadly just aired its last episode). Alice Porter discusses the podcast in her article for The Mancunion: ‘Five great podcasts for book lovers’.
This review copy was provided by Blackwell’s Manchester. Ghosts is available to purchase online.