“Being a heterosexual woman who loved men meant being a translator for their emotions, a palliative nurse for their pride and a hostage negotiator for their egos,” observes 32-year-old successful food writer Nina Dean as she awaits the arrival of her new boyfriend in the company of her ex, Joe, who remains a close friend and confidant.
She met Max on a dating app, where she’d had “twenty-seven conversations on the go with twenty-seven different men,” which seems a lot, until you realise Nina spent “approximately four hours of each working day on the app, green-lighting hundreds upon thousands of men.” That a mere twenty-seven wanted to match her back “seemed meagre.” Her gregarious (and perennially single) friend Lola explains matches halve when women turn thirty. So Nina feels comparatively lucky to have met Max, who declaratively states “I’m certain I’m going to marry you” after their first date, which would be cringeworthy if uttered by anyone else, but Max is the perfect cocktail of earnestness and charm. She believes him. Until the day he vanishes from her life.
Dolly Alderton’s “Ghosts” is one of the best novels of the year. It’s a very smart, very funny, and very touching snapshot of a woman in her thirties coping with the rigmarole of adulthood. As her father’s dementia razes the bedrock of her family, and her closest friends start dissipating from her life as they focus on marriage and parenthood, Nina is reminded constantly of the gendered double-standard of the biological clock: “the female population [is] just an endless source of chances” for men, she realises. They have the luxury of being able to decide when they want to fall in love and have a family, and grow up.
“Ghosts” flows like running water, punctuated with poignant moments, lightning comedy and searing social commentary. In one scene, Lola is asked what her love language is. She deadpans “Anal, probably.” In the next, they’re discussing politics; “I’m fiscally conservative but socially liberal,” remarks a fellow wedding guest. Nina retorts, “I’m not sure that really exists… ‘I love the gays but don’t care about the poor’ can’t be described as liberal in any sense.”
“Ghosts” is warm-hearted, sharp-edged, and unmissable.