I am not a "literary" reader. Overall, I tend to like very few books that are dubbed "intellectual" or "profound" or anything that deep. Mostly I just find those sorts of books to be depressing, or frustrating, or incomprehensible. Which, y'know, made life fun as an Englisih major :P Mostly I read things that are genre because that's what entertains me, and most of the time, people actually use logic and figure things out and explain them and make their world building work. In this book? WHO THE HELL KNOWS WHAT THE SMACK IS GOING ON HERE.
I am stumped as to how to write this review. I am stumped as to what the hell to rate this book, to the point where I am considering just calling it a "?" I can see why some folks, who are by far more intellectual than I, give it high ratings. However, I think most of the rest of us will mostly just be confused and lost. I am not a person who is prone to seasickness, but I'd imagine that reading this book gives you the mental equivalent of that feeling. Every few pages, SOMETHING MAJOR CHANGES. Out of the blue, frequently with no logical reason that you can figure out for doing so. The waves never stop tossing, the storm never lets up, and lightning strikes occur constantly.
I read some other folks's reviews online in hopes of figuring out what to do with mine. This one from BoingBoing was a glowing review, but this line in it stuck out to me:
"Carroll is the omnipotent god of his characters and situations, and he is totally in control of every variable, so that we trust him throughout, even though he never plays fair. "
This last bit is incredibly true. This book does not play fair. There is no way in hell that you can deduce on your own what the hell is going on without the author having to just eventually flat out tell you. Ass pulls are going on all over the place.
This review was more along the lines of how I felt about it:
"Personally, it has been several days since I finished it, and I still can't decide quite how I feel about it. There were times when I was listening when I was struck by the truth of a point that Jonathan Carroll was making, and the simplicity of the language and the elegance of the writing with which that point was made. Other times, though, I'd draw back from the story, particularly when another bizarre paranormal element was introduced in service of some Deep Truth about the Nature of the Self, and think to myself: "Really? I mean, really?"
So what is this book about? I'll attempt to explain:
A few folks on the planet were supposed to die, and then somehow survived their freak deaths. Ben Gould was supposed to have fallen and bashed his head in, but he survived it. Danielle Voyles survived a freak head injury. After that, both of them are developing weird magical powers out of the blue. Ben starts having psychic flashes of Danielle's life, but when he tries to talk to her, she literally can't see that he's there. Ben feels weirded out about this, which makes him frustratingly distant from his girlfriend, German (yes, that's her name, not her ethnicity/language). German has just moved out in frustration, but still sees Ben due to having custody of their mutual dog, Pilot. They're still in love, but are totally baffled as to wtf is going on. Eventually Ben tells German what is going on and sends her to talk to Danielle, but that goes weirdly.
The title ghost, Ling, was supposed to haunt the world and take Ben's place trying to figure stuff out after he died. But since he didn't die, she's stuck. The Angel of Death, Stanley, tells her to just hang around and watch him and see what the hell is happening while they figure out what kind of glitch is keeping people from dying, or whatever it is. Ling technically falls in love with German while watching her with Ben, but this has little, if anything, to do with the story and who the hell cares.
Then some random homeless bum named Stewart Parrish kills the Angel of Death (or...something...), and starts running around space and time trying to kill Ben for some reason. Ling and the verzes--some kind of earless white guard dogs--protect Ben and run around with him in the past a la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, trying to dodge this guy. Stewart Parrish goes back in time and grabs an object that's sacred to German and then by using the object and threats of killing her dog, tries to get her to help him find where Ben is hiding in the past. Stewart seems to be the representation of Making Things Go Back The Way That They Were, a la Jack on Tru Calling.
Honestly, it just gets fucking weirder and weirder and less related to any kind of anything at all. These people basically lose their resemblance to how any humans would act and suddenly everything is happening in this weird netherworld where Danielle starts interacting with all of her past selves and Ben is suddenly pulling powers out of his ass and sharing them with German and Pilot and he doesn't know why he suddenly knows what he's doing and Ling starts becoming human for no good reason and suddenly everyone in Danielle's apartment building starts reliving the one best moment of their lives and....At this point, I give up on trying to explain what is going on, and I'll resort to quoting the book blurb:
"The Ghost in Love is about what happens to us when we discover that we have become the masters of our own fate. No excuses, no outside forces or gods to blame—the responsibility is all our own. It’s also about love, ghosts that happen to be gourmet cooks, talking dogs, and picnicking in the rain with yourself at twenty different ages."Well, yes. Technically that happens.
Now, don't get me wrong: that plot idea of becoming master of your own fate after you haven't totally died is good. That's interesting. The author does take some fascinating mental side trips along the way that are incredibly cool. I'll list the memorable stuff:
- German's lost thing, which was a rock that a cute boy gave her and made her feel like she was valuable and loved. I really liked this description, and we all have our "lost things" that we feel something about and it pangs us to lose them. If I suddenly got my lost thing back, I'd be thrilled--even though the circumstances that German gets hers in are kinda bad.
- Danielle figuring out that even though she started shoplifting at age 12, it was her 6-year-old self that led her to start the shoplifting. This leads her to realize that we're all influenced by our past selves, which have different feelings on things than the current one does, and we have to figure out how to cope with all of our selves somehow.
- Danielle has a "picnic" with all of her past selves, most of which are asking her how things are going to come out. She has an interesting time trying to figure out what, exactly, to tell them. And if you think about that, that would be a dilemma, wouldn't it? She is also prompted to start asking her past selves about their memories, which are clearer to them then they are to her now, which leads her to... well, that I'll discuss below the spoiler cut.*
- Pilot is a fully realized participating, talking character in this one, who does take action and has thoughts and does the best he can in an ever-shifting landscape. I don't know why he's suddenly the reincarnation of Ben's dead girlfriend, or what that has to do with anything, or who the hell cares (not Pilot, he's horrified and easily blackmailed into doing something at the threat of being told that in the next life they'd somehow make him become human again)., but his reaction to such is kind of amusing.
- On the human side, German is the most well done character, cheerfully sketched out and realized. Though unfortunately, she seems to lose that as the book gets weirder and starts to focus on the weird shit that Ben and Danielle are doing. By the end she feels like another ghost self, or something.
- It's a good thing the book is relatively short (just over 300 pages) and a quick read. I don't know why I stuck with it, other than I read it on a random Sunday when I had a few hours to kill and was trying to figure out a weird knitting problem, but had it been longer I probably would have keeled over instead of "oh hell, I'm just going to plow through this sucker and finish it."
- There's no way to figure out what the hell is going on. Every few pages, there's yet another dramatic ass pull sea change going on.
- The characters kind of lose their humanity, or to some degree just kind of lose their ties to reality, or what a normal person would be like...Who the hell is Ben, by the end of this book? I don't know. There's too many of him (literally) and I don't know what I am supposed to make of what has happened to him. Uh...okay...I...guess?
- People rapidly lose their ability to have logic. Things just happen, out of the blue, and suddenly at least one character (probably Ben) Knows how to deal with it, and poof, there it is! Are these people even on Earth any more? Who knows? ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN! AND DOES! TOTALLY AT RANDOM! Do these people even go to work and have jobs any more?
- Is this a happy ending? I...guess...? Does it work? Fuck if I know.
Overall, the philosophy of this book definitely gives you something to THINK about. I cannot deny that. But would I recommend that folks read this? I think the answer is "probably not." It is not precisely bad, per se. There are some nuggets of goodness in here. But will you understand what's going on? PROBABLY NOT. And that's why it's getting a two and a half star rating. If you are super intellectual and snobby (in which case, you probably don't usually read my book reviews because I don't read your sort of thing), you'll probably get this book and understand it and love it, and good for you! For you, it will probably be five stars! But the rest of us? Yeah, I have no idea how one finds their way around this author's works. "Lost" doesn't even begin to describe.