December 23, 2021 3:42 PM - Subscribe

"Nina Dean has arrived at her early thirties as a successful food writer with loving friends and family, plus a new home and neighbourhood. When she meets Max, a beguiling romantic hero who tells her on date one that he's going to marry her, it feels like all is going to plan. A new relationship couldn't have come at a better time - her thirties have not been the liberating, uncomplicated experience she was sold."--Goodreads
posted by MonkeyToes (2 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Rom-coms are not my thing, but, persuaded by the upside-down bouquet on the cover and its presence on a couple of year-end lists, I picked up Ghosts and started to read. The words were all in order, the plotting clear, the characters bland enough to have been entirely laundered and recycled from other, equally cliched novels or movies (striving 30-something, named for a pop song; desperately self-reinventing mum; declining school teacher dad; hunky boyfriend; kooky bestie; and don't tell me you weren't casting those roles as you read, and yes, I agree that Olivia Colman would be perfect as Nancy-turned-Mandy mum, a sort of Fleabag callback, and Bill Paterson playing gently confused and frustrated would be spot-on). I trudged through the first chapter and came to the line at the end, something about "So began the strangest year of my life." It took slogging through a number of additional chapters to realize that strange meant things like "discovering that dating by app sucks," and "even the seemingly good ones ghost you," and "parents getting old is hard!" and "I had a blowout with my bougie bestie, but then we made it up one drunken weekend when she came up to London to escape her hapless husband and her small, annoying children." SO STRANGE. If it were 1995, I might start singing "How bizarre, how bizarre." But that would be an outdated reference, suitable only for the girls at the hen 'do that our heroine--Nina the food writer--makes fun of from 'the stalls of cynicism." I agree with Barry Pierce, linked above, in questioning whether this book is how we live now, where "we" and "now" are doing a lot of work. Maybe Alderton wrote it years ago, and squirreled it away, hoping that the craving for nostalgia would be a great and lucrative springboard for a cable adaptation with a familiar soundtrack?

I kept hoping this would get better, and it just didn't, although every eight or ten pages a well-polished line would jump out at me and say "Witty and urbane enough for Twitter, right?" For me, the whole thing felt assembled rather than written. It didn't develop in interesting ways, or shed light on what it's criticizing (not careful enough about what it's pretending to be, maybe? It felt like it collapsed into what it said it was mocking, much like the best friend who makes fun of the newly-engaged and longs to be one of them). It's a book, and that's an achievement, but not a very good one.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:15 PM on December 24, 2021

Ah. Thanks, both for your review and the link to Barry White's. This is in the "you read it so I don't have to" category. Nina does not sound like a likeable protagonist (the Schadenfreude Shelf? Not that I'm against schadenfreude, but having a capitalised shelf for it is a bit much). Though I do quite like "her hobbies include ... being weirdly mean to her well-intentioned mother", I think that may be one of mine.
posted by paduasoy at 3:12 PM on December 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

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