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Jonathan Carroll – The Ghost in Love

January 15, 2009

154. The Ghost in Love by Jonathan Carroll (2008)

Read By: Ray Porter
Length: 9h 11min (320 pages)
Genre: Literary Fiction/Fantasy

Started: 05 December 2008
Finished: 13 December 2008

Ghosts, time travel, and
plenty of philosophy
make this one weird read.

Do you remember that one night in college, where you stayed up too late with your friends, sitting in someone’s living room and drinking terrible rotgut alcohol and talking about the meaning of life, and identity, and love, and eventually around 3 a.m. you reached a drunken state of pure lucidity that was filled with revelation, and suddenly you Got It, and the universe made perfect sense to you? (No? Just me, then?) In any case, if you bottled that feeling of that night, transmuted it into paper, stretched it out across an entire novel, and padded it with ghosts, time traveling into one’s own past, reincarnation, murderous bums, white earless spectral dogs, and the Angel of Death, you’d have something very akin to The Ghost in Love.

Summary: This novel starts with Ben Gould, a young man who falls and hits his head on the ice, and is supposed to die, but doesn’t. Ben’s ghost – who is supposed to help Ben transition into the afterlife, and clean up any of his unfinished business – is therefore somewhat stranded, and the Angel of Death isn’t being particularly helpful; he tells the ghost just to hang out until they can figure out the “glitch” that resulted in Ben’s non-death.

Ben, in the meantime, doesn’t realize that anything’s gone wrong. Sure, he’s broken up with his girlfriend German, and spends most of his days regretting that decision, but it’s not until strange powers and occurrences start manifesting around him that he begins to suspect that there’s really something wrong. The stranger things get, the more apparent it becomes that in order to really survive death, Ben is going to have to take a hard look at his life – and himself.

Review: The Ghost in Love walks a very fine line between being deeply profound and entirely pretentious, and which way you think it tips will depend on whether or not you like a hefty dose of philosophy in your books, and the relative importance you put on philosophy versus story in your reading. Because make no mistake, this is not a sci-fi/fantasy novel with some philosophical underpinnings; this is a philosophical novel dressed up in paranormal clothing.

Personally, it’s 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 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?”

It probably didn’t help that the storytelling is supremely non-linear; even forgoing the time-traveling bits, the narrative jumps back and forth through Ben and German’s relationship with only the barest of signposts to let the reader know what’s going on. Carroll also reveals the workings of his story very, very slowly, creating confusion which may or may not have been intentional – for instance, I was halfway through the book before I realized that Ben’s ghost is not Ben’s ghost in the traditional sense, but rather a separate (and female) entity. The title is also somewhat misleading: we’re told the ghost is in love with German, but that aspect barely comes into play, and was certainly never the focus of the story.

The audiobook production was clean and well done; Ray Porter’s voice is for the most part easy to listen to, although his voice for the ghost was overly whiney, and almost certainly contributed to my dislike for that character.

Overall, this book has left me with a welter of conflicting emotions and opinions. It was interesting, but I was never absorbed in the story to the point where I would be dying to listen to more. I vacillated between being impressed by the clarity of its message and point of view, and being amused by the aura of “this novel is filled with Deep Thoughts” that it radiated. It’s well written, but strangely plotted. I can’t quite say that I really liked it, nor did I really dislike it, but I am still thinking about it… so it must have done something right. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: If you like your fiction with a heavy dose of philosophy, it’s worth a try. Just be warned: it’s strange.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Books I Done Read, Stainless Steel Droppings
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First Line: The ghost was in love with a woman named German Landis.

This review was originally published at http://www.sfsite.com.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. January 15, 2009 12:25 am

    Well darn! My library has plenty of this author’s books just not this one yet :( It sounds really neat, thanks for the review!

  2. January 15, 2009 9:32 am

    I love your analogy from the beginning. Books that make you keep thinking are some of my favorites, but it’s frustrating for me to read them and then not have anyone to discuss them with right away — I blame my English major training for that one.

  3. January 15, 2009 9:39 am

    Ladytink – This was my first book by Jonathan Carroll; what are his others like? Any you’d particularly recommend?

    Kim – That’s part of why I started my blog: I’d see my friends’ eyes glaze over as I tried to draw them into yet another discussion about what I was reading, so I figured I’d take it to a forum where the discussion can come to me. :)

  4. Astrid permalink
    January 15, 2009 11:06 am

    Spoiler alert from the get go: [redacted for spoilage] I adored this book, as I do all of Carroll’s work. I don’t think it was pretentious at all– funny and strange, but very very well written and full of lines I loved so much I wanted to write them down on Post it notes and stick on the inside of my brain so I wouldn’t forget them.

  5. January 15, 2009 2:11 pm

    Astrid – I couldn’t figure out how to hide the spoiler, so I cut it for the sake of my other readers. I see your point, but I still feel like the title is misleading as to the bulk of the story.

  6. January 15, 2009 4:05 pm

    Sorry can’t help you there. I haven’t read anything by him before either.

  7. January 15, 2009 4:10 pm

    Ladytink – Oh, your Library library, not your personal home library. Clearly I wasn’t 100% awake the first time I read your comment. :)

  8. January 16, 2009 2:13 pm

    That line is very thin indeed. I had similarly mixed feelings about the first Carroll I ever read (White Apples). He IS strange, but most of the time he’s good strange for me. I want to read this, but I won’t rush to get it.

    One of his I really recommend is Voice of Our Shadow.

  9. January 17, 2009 9:16 am

    Nymeth – I get the impression that Carroll is one of those authors where people who love him *really* love him, people who hate him *really* hate him, and the rest of us are stranded somewhere in the mid-range. I’m definitely willing to give another one of his books a go, though, so Voice of Our Shadow went onto my wishlist (darn you!) :)

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