Happy Publication Day | Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

Happy publication day to Ghosts by Dolly Alderton, a charming, funny and heartfelt piece of contemporary fiction. I read and reviewed this back in July, and my full review is here!

Nina Dean has arrived at her early thirties as a successful food writer with loving friends and family, plus a new home and neighbourhood. When she meets Max, a beguiling romantic hero who tells her on date one that he’s going to marry her, it feels like all is going to plan.

A new relationship couldn’t have come at a better time – her thirties have not been the liberating, uncomplicated experience she was sold. Everywhere she turns, she is reminded of time passing and opportunities dwindling. Friendships are fading, ex-boyfriends are moving on and, worse, everyone’s moving to the suburbs. There’s no solace to be found in her family, with a mum who’s caught in a baffling mid-life makeover and a beloved dad who is vanishing in slow-motion into dementia.

Dolly Alderton’s debut novel is funny and tender, filled with whip-smart observations about relationships, family, memory, and how we live now.

P.S.

Please buy from a bookshop who pays their taxes! Blackwells have free delivery in the UK and US, and Bookshop means you can shop online from your local bookshops – currently available in the US and coming soon to the UK! (Not to get on a soapbox, but please don’t buy books from Amazon. If you need any convincing, have a read of this).

Book Review | Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

Nina is in her early thirties, a successful food writer living in London. She’s got just one single friend left, Lola, and everyone else is married and starting families. She caves to pressure and downloads a dating app called Linx. The line-up of potential mates is uninspiring to say the least – as Nina remarks dryly, ‘Every man looked exactly the same: ‘Tom, 24, atheist, London, likes: reading, sleeping, eating travel’ – it reminded me of the Biology GCSE syllabus and being taught what living organisms need: ‘movement, respiration, reproduction, nutrition, excretion.’

But it’s not too long before she meets the charming and beguiling Max, an accountant (a job he hates) with a love of the outdoors and a yearning to see the world (yawn?). They hit it off, and things are going swimmingly. Until – not a spoiler – he vanishes.

‘Max wanted to be tortured, he wanted to yearn and chase and dream. He wanted to exist in a liminal state, like everything was just about to begin.’

So this is a story about being ghosted in the modern, dating sense, the term that appeared to give a name to that depressing phenomenon of potential or current dates disappearing off the face of the earth with no explanation. But it’s not just about that: the ghosts here are also the slowly vanishing friendships, once held dear but splintered by a move to the suburbs, screaming toddlers and a picture-perfect Instagram life. Nina struggles to connect with her best friend who’s determined to act like someone who has it all, while similarly seeing Nina’s life choices as a direct attack on her own.

The ghosts are also those of the past, made even more astute by the fact that Nina’s father is suffering from Dementia. As she watches him slowly grow more distanced from the person he was, she grapples with the feelings of responsibility, loss and sadness, amidst a fracturing relationship with her mum. There are tender and insightful layers of nostalgia as Nina returns to the place she grew up, the air thick with memory.

‘When I was in Pinner, I could be seventeen again, just for a day. I could pretend that my world was myopic and my choices meaningless and the possibilities that were ahead of me were wide open and boundless.’

‘They arrive in their new navy car. It’s already been fitted with a seat for the baby. One day that baby will sit on a bench, wondering if that navy car is scrap metal somewhere, wishing it could come collect them.’

Dolly Alderton’s debut novel is heartfelt, relatable and true. It’s also funny in that witty and astute way that anyone who has read Dolly’s autobiography, Everything I Know About Love, or listened to The High Low podcast will know well.

‘You just have to trust me when I say: you shall not pass.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You shall not pass,’ she repeated sagely, giving me a gentle smile.
‘Pass where?’
‘It’s a phrase my mum always used to say to me when I was sad. It means: this will end at some point, then you’ll be happy again.’
‘This too shall pass.’
‘Yes, exactly, it will.’
‘No, that’s what you’re meant to say.’
‘Is it? Why do I know the proverb “you shall not pass”?’
‘It’s not a proverb, it’s what Gandalf says in Lord of the Rings.’

It’s a totally absorbing read, one that will particularly resonate with anyone in their twenties or thirties going through similar transitions. But it’s also lovely in its universality and the themes of steadfast friendship, courage, change and hope.

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With thanks to the publisher for the advanced copy. Ghosts will be published in October 2020. 

Book Review | Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton

It might seem silly to be writing a memoir when you’re not yet 30. There’s a snobbery attached to memoirs, an idea that one needs to have lived a long and full life before even thinking about putting pen to paper to eternally memorialise the experience. All I can say is, thank God Dolly Alderton didn’t wait.

For me, and for I imagine countless other women in their 20s, this is a hilarious, insightful, at times awfully sad and incredibly relatable meditation about womanhood, friendship, revelry, romance and, of course, love – in all its many guises.

There are several reasons why I loved this book and read it solidly in a day. I haven’t done that since University, where I was mandated to power read three books a week. The first reason I loved it is because it is funny – laugh out loud funny. Anyone on the cusp of womanhood in the mid/late 2000s will get a twinge of nostalgia at that painfully awkward and, in many ways, unique to the time experience. I, like Dolly, remember rushing home and logging on to MSN, appearing offline and then going back online in a feeble attempt to get the crush du jour to notice me.

‘Early on in our friendship, we discovered that since the conception of Instant Messenger, we had both been copying and pasting conversations with boys on to a Microsoft Word document, printing them out and putting the pages in a ring-binder folder to read before bed like an erotic novel. We thought ourselves to be a sort of two-person Bloomsbury Group of early Noughties MSN Messenger.’

The second reason I loved it is because I love the way Dolly writes. It feels like it’s just two of you talking in a bar late into the night with a bottle of pinot. It’s raw, and it’s honest.  And she captures some moments of life with such an astute eye. How many times, I found myself thinking, have I felt this exact way when on a train (cross-country train travel is one of the things I miss the most about England) –

‘I always thought something brilliant might happen to me on a train. The transitional state of a long journey has always seemed to me the most romantic and magical of places to find yourself in, marooned in a cosy pod of your own thoughts, suspended in mid-air, travelling through a wodge of silent, blank pages between two chapters. […]The clearest moments of epiphany and gratitude have hit me when zooming through unidentifiable English countryside, staring out at a golden rapeseed field, considering what I am leaving behind or about to approach.’

She is unflinching. She talks about the revelry of all-night partying and drinking and drug-dabbling and those hilarious stories that become funnier and more outrageous each time you tell them. But she also talks about the end of the party. The reality of what being everyone’s favourite good-time girl does to you, the persona you have to maintain – to be the first one on the dancefloor and the last one home.

‘The gap between who you were on a Saturday night, commandeering an entire pub garden by shouting obnoxiously about how you’ve always felt you had at least three prime-time sitcom scripts in you, and who you are on a Sunday afternoon, thinking about death and wondering if the postman likes you or not, becomes too capacious.’

And the third reason I loved it is because of the way Dolly describes female friendships; one of the strongest and purest and earliest forms of love. How our female friendships shape who we are and who we become and how true friends are one constant in the face of momentous change. And the devastation we feel when the landscape of these friendships changes forever.

‘I’d like to pause the story a moment to talk about ‘nothing will change’. I’ve heard it said to me repeatedly by women I love during my twenties when they move in with boyfriends, get engaged, move abroad, get married, get pregnant. ‘Nothing will change.’ It drives me bananas. Everything will change. Everything will change. The love we have for each other stays the same, but the format, the tone, the regularity and the intimacy of our friendship will change for ever.

 It’s compulsive, delightful, sensitive reading – and I loved every minute.