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Monday, October 20, 2008

“The Ghost in Love” by Jonathan Carroll (Reviewed by Fábio Fernandes)

Official Jonathan Carroll Website
Order “The Ghost In Love
Read Reviews HERE

The first time I heard of Jonathan Carroll was almost twenty years ago, when a friend of mine let me borrow “Outside the Dog Museum”. At that time I was strictly a SF buff, with no time for that “nonsense Fantasy stuff”, as I used to say then.

Little did I know then.

Outside the Dog Museum” was a real eye-opener to me. It was then that I discovered that a Fantasy book didn’t need to be all about Tolkien-like fantasy, or even epic, heroic fantasy. (Even though, in all those years since, I learned to enjoy these other kinds of Fantasy as well, but that’s another story.)

I liked that book so much that my friend let me borrow another one—“After Silence”. This time I was deeply moved, so moved that tears would fall without control from my eyes for at least half the book (you can imagine how I felt at the tragic story ending, then).

As Neil Gaiman very aptly puts it in an introductory text to Carroll’s website:

Jonathan Carroll's a changer. He's one of the special ones, one of the few. He paints the world he sees. He opens a window you did not know was there and invites you to look through it. He gives you his eyes to see with, and he gives you the world all fresh and honest and new.

Despite this very true fact (or maybe because of it—a Freudian slip may be lurking in the shadows as I write this review), I never read Carroll again. Until “The Ghost in Love.”

We’ve all seen this plot before—the person who dies before his/her time and then is forced to come back to Earth. This slight variation is not unheard of as well—the person who doesn’t die but should have died—and then all Heaven breaks loose for it. The ghost who is called to tie the loose ends of Ben Gould’s life discovers, appalled, that he is very much alive, even if he had fallen down in the street and was supposed to have died after hitting his head on the curb.

Carroll presents us with a different kind of ghost—a kind that is an autonomous entity and, at the same time, a piece of the soul of the deceased. The ghost (an invention of an ancient Chinese author which God, in a fit of retcon-ness, decided to incorporate to his creations ex post facto) is charged of the logistical, bureaucratic part of the afterlife—to make amends for the recently deceased person and tie up loose ends.

This ghost, called Ling (because all the ghosts are given Chinese names, in homage to the original creator of the concept), simply begins to be a part of the routine of Gould’s life, and, maybe because it is part of Gould after all, falls in love with his girlfriend, German Landis. And suffers terribly when they break up.

But the story is not limited to this plot (things are never so simple in Carroll’s stories): Ben Gould’s “exaggerated death” affected deeply the great scheme of things—as Ling learns from her superior, the Angel of Death, Gould’s case is not the only one, and that means humankind is at last really discovering free will—humans are gaining the right to choose when to die and how, instead of putting themselves in the hands of fate. It’s an extreme landmark for the universe—but it isn’t necessarily good for everyone, because there are forces that are very much against this change, and will do everything in their power to make things come back to “normality”.

And that’s where Ling must make herself known to Gould, and also to Landis, because she must warn and protect them from this threat—and she definitely would, if it wasn’t for the fact that she unknowingly is turning herself into a common human being, and, therefore, is powerless to help them. But are they powerless?

With “The Ghost in Love”, Carroll recaptured my attention, and made me think that he is really one of a kind: he’s the only writer I know who can give this kind of story a really different spin—the plot becomes at the same time both less and more. Less in the sense that he sort of de-epicisizes the story, giving it a quotidian, everyday quality that makes it all the more believable. (One could almost think of the American Splendor comics, but without the mordacity.) More in the sense that he gives us readers the feeling that real magic can happen all the time around us even if we’re not aware of it. And we end the book changed, as in an alchemical process. That’s it: Carroll is a true alchemist of the spirit.


Unknown said...

nice blog

Robert said...


SciFiGuy said...

You review makes me want to rush out and get this right away. Well done!

Anonymous said...

maybe its a good story and a scary one. hehe

Karen Mahoney said...

Great review. I'll definitely link to it - you've said everything I'd like to say, only a million times better. I'm a huge fan of Carroll's work. :)

Anonymous said...

Many thanks for the good and thoughtful review. It nails what I was trying to say in the novel.

Jonathan Carroll


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