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The Ghost in Love
Jonathan Carroll
Narrated by Ray Porter, unabridged
Blackstone Audiobooks, 9 hours, 11 minutes

The Ghost in Love
Jonathan Carroll
Jonathan Carroll was born in 1949 in New York. His father was a screenwriter; his mother an actress and lyricist. He attended Rutgers University then the University of Virginia. He became an English teacher, eventually moving to the American International School in Vienna, Austria, in 1974. Carroll still lives in Vienna with his family.

Jonathan Carroll Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Glass Soup
SF Site Review: Outside the Dog Museum
SF Site Review: White Apples
SF Site Review: Voice of Our Shadow
SF Site Review: The Wooden Sea
SF Site Interview: Jonathan Carroll
SF Site Reading List: Jonathan Carroll
SF Site Review: The Land of Laughs
SF Site Review: The Marriage of Sticks and Kissing the Beehive
SF Site Review: The Marriage of Sticks
SF Site Review: Kissing the Beehive
SF Site Review: From The Teeth of Angels

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nicki Gerlach

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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.

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.

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 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 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?"

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 sign posts 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.

Copyright © 2009 Nicki Gerlach

Nicki Gerlach is a mad scientist by day and an avid reader the rest of the time.  More of her book reviews can be found at her blog, fyreflybooks.wordpress.com/.


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