Book Review | Ghosted by Rosie Walsh

Rural Gloucestershire is six thousand miles and a lifetime away from Los Angeles, where Sarah has made her home for the past two decades. But she’s drawn back, every summer, for something of a pilgrimage – returning to the site of a tragic accident that happened when she was just a teenager, on a day that was to change her life forever.

But even in the midst of the shadow of grief, there is unexpected joy. When Sarah meets Eddie outside the village where she grew up, their connection is instant. They spend a week together, enchanted with each other’s company and almost delirious with happiness. By the end of the week, they both know that this is it. This isn’t just infatuation. This is something else.

Then Eddie leaves for the airport, headed on holiday. And that’s the last Sarah hears from him.

What follows is a spiral into increasingly erratic and desperate behaviour. She messages, calls, stalks his Facebook page, rings his business number. She can’t accept that this man – quite possibly her one great love – could have vanished off the face of the earth.

‘What I did that night would lie way beyond the splintered edges of sanity. But as I stood on the concourse at Victoria station earlier on, trying to reason with myself, I had realised that I wanted to see Eddie more than I cared about the consequences.’

In the coming days and weeks, she pores over every millimetre of their interactions, every second of their time spent together, desperate to see what was invisible; the cracks beneath the surface that would have foretold such an unceremonious, brutal rupture. Her friends try to let her down, gently. After all, she wouldn’t be the first person to have been ghosted.

The truth, however, is neither easy nor straightforward.

I was looking for a lighter read in the wake of finishing The Handmaid’s Tale, and I’m pleased to say that this one delivered. I enjoyed the structure of the book as it wove between letters, flashbacks and the present, and it developed a layered plot with an intelligent twist that turned expectations on their head. After the reveal, I found myself flipping back to previous pages for subtle hints at what was about to unfurl.

If I could have asked for one thing, it would have been to better understand Sarah and Eddie, the bounds of their identities beyond each other. That said, I especially liked the way that Walsh portrayed the bonds of friendship and family, in all their messiness and complexities, and our very human desire for connection, understanding and acceptance.

 

Book Review | The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Gilead: a frightening, theocratic nation-state, a place where the deepest, darkest desires of Christian fundamentalism have come to life. Driven by a literal interpretation of old-testament ideologies, modern-day America has been transformed into a place where obedience is everything; deviation means death. In a world where environmental destruction has caused mass infertility, those who are still able to carry children are known as ‘handmaids’, servants for the upper-classes who are ritualistically raped by their ‘Commanders’ in the hope of conceiving a child and thus continuing their bloodline.

It wasn’t always like this. Offred (denoted only by her status as property of the Commander) remembers a time when she could smoke cigarettes and kiss her husband and play with her daughter and make crude jokes with her flatmate. Those memories are slipping further away, part of a past that is so far removed from the present to make you wonder whether it ever even existed.

‘I’m sad now, the way we’re taking is infinitely sad: faded music, faded paper flowers, worn satin, an echo of an echo. All gone away, no longer possible.’

To be a handmaid is to be forced to relinquish control over every aspect of your life: from what you eat to how you dress. Books have been banned, reading is a subversive act that can earn you a place on ‘the Wall’, a horrifying place of public execution, where bodies are left for days afterwards, for the public to bear witness to the consequences of insubordination.

‘Ordinary, said Aunt Lydia, is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary.’

This is a book that I had been planning to read for years, but I also approached it somewhat with trepidation. As a seminal 20th century feminist text, what if I didn’t like it? What if it had dated? What if it was overwrought or overwritten?

These fears were unfounded. Decades after its publication, the text remains rightly canonical. Atwood writes with precision and clarity: words are economical and used wisely, the horror of a scene deftly conveyed with the spreading bloodstain over a hanged and hooded figure where a mouth should be. Not only is the writing masterful, but the cautionary tale remains relevant – frighteningly so. It’s no exaggeration to say that it feels prescient, that not only do women all over the world live in societies with little regard for their human rights, but also that hard-won freedoms of bodily autonomy for women in developed nations are only ever one despot away from being revoked.  You only have to look at who is in power in present-day America and the resolve of their closest advisors to bring down liberal democracy. More than thirty years on, The Handmaid’s Tale is as relevant and important as ever.

‘Perspective is necessary. Otherwise there are only two dimensions. Otherwise you live with your face squashed against a wall, everything a huge foreground, of details, close-ups, hairs, the weave of the bedsheet, the molecules of the face. Your own skin like a map, a diagram of futility, crisscrossed with tiny roads that lead nowhere. Otherwise you live in the moment which is not where I want to be.’