Tuesday, September 08, 2009

There were no ghosts in this book.

I say that upfront because the fact kinda ruined the book for me. In turn, that fact makes me contemplate the idea of reader expectation. Which I'll subject you to for a moment (nice, right?).

Reader expectation can be formed in more ways than I am likely to think of. On the most basic level it can be the cover, the jacket material, summaries, blurbs, reviews, word of mouth, the reader's past experiences with the author, etc. I'll admit that, personally, I am most swayed (one way or another) by a cover.

So, what led me to believe that there were ghosts in this book? Well, the title, for one. It seems reasonable that a book called Nothing But Ghosts, would in fact, contain ghosts. Now, I have not read anything else by Beth Kephart, but via word of mouth, I have heard nothing but praise toward the author's work. That, combined with a very lovely cover, and the potential for ghosts made me want to read this particular book.

So, as stated, I liked this book less because it was so very different than what I was expecting. I picked it up wanting and expecting ghosts, and in a way I got them, but they were metaphorical ghosts. And, frankly, those are less interesting to me when I'm hoping for the ones that say "boo" and give me goosebumps.

Now, had I read the jacket copy, I might have been prepared, but since those are notoriously spoiler-riffic, I avoid them like the plague if I actually plan on reading the book.

ULTIMATELY, ALLOWING MYSELF TO BE LET DOWN BY A BOOK FOR THE SIMPLE FACT THAT IT WAS NOT ABOUT WHAT I EXPECTED IT TO BE ABOUT IS NOT FAIR TO THE BOOK ITSELF. Basically, it's my own fault for being swayed by marketing. Especially when you figure that the author, who owns the words, most likely had nothing to do with the marketing department, who owns the appearance. I hate it when that happens.

So, let us set all that appearance crap aside and take a look-see at the ACTUAL BOOK (also, let's have MORE CAPITALIZATION!):

This is a book about grief. This is a book about a mystery. This is a book that takes a mystery to understand the mystery of death. And life. And a little about how cope with both.

Katie's mom died. She and her dad are operating in an autopilot haze that insulates them from the world they were forced out of upon her mother's death. Katie doesn't see her friends; her father pours himself into his work and trying to make up for his wife's absence. They are both functioning, but miserable.

Katie takes a summer job landscaping a local mansion to keep herself away from the memories and plunges herself into distraction by researching the mysterious landlord who communicates her instructions only through the groundskeeper and hasn't left the mansion in decades. But the groundskeeper has his own mysterious plans and he's using the summer help to find something himself. Why hasn't Martine Everlast left the house, and what, exactly is the groundsman looking for?

In researching a woman who decides to waste her life shut up alone for decades, when her mother could have used those years, Katie begins to understand some of her mother's last actions and wishes - and what she would have wanted for Katie.

"Maybe I can't really save my dad from sadness, but maybe so much time goes by that you start to understand how beauty and sadness can both live in one place" p 165.

The dynamic between the grieving father and daughter is quite well-done. The metaphysical musings of the opening ("There are the things that have been and the things that haven't happened yet. There is a squiggle of a line between, which is the color of caution..." p 1) that will turn off some, more reluctant, readers. The story is interesting, but frustrating, both in pacing and plot.

Other than the lackage of ghosts, my biggest problem with the novel is the level of coincident: just as Katie becomes curious about Martine Everlast a box of historical clippings containing important clues to the reclusive heiress shows up at the public library; her father, out of nowhere, suddenly takes an art restoration job on a painting he suspects was done by Martine's father. No one has heard anything of this family in decades and suddenly, just as Katie gets curious two clues surface? hmm.

Voice was good. The style weaving flashbacks and present day was effective. The setting was very good, so good that I'd be interested in other books set in this small town that concerned completely different characters. The primary and secondary characters all felt well-rounded. Kephart did not answer all of the questions a reader might ask, but she left breadcrumbs toward those answers that can be reached with some reflection.

Besides, all is well, because there was a pretty kick-ass librarian character. No bun OR sensible shoes included. ;)

Books to recommend alongside this one:
If I Stay by Gayle Foreman
The Pursuit of Happiness by Tara Altebrando
The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
and many, many more. Feel free to add to these three in the comments.


Abby said...

*nods* I'm struggling with expectations because my current read was recommended (by the book's marketing/publicity team) for fans of The Hunger Games.

And... it's really nothing like The Hunger Games. Pretty much at all. And I have to keep reminding myself that that's okay.

Beth Kephart said...

I have the perfect real ghosts book for you — The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters. It's about a very haunted house and, in many ways, was quite well done.

Jackie said...

Thanks Beth, I'll put it on my list!

Michelle said...

This book was recommended to me and like you I didn't read the flap so I went in with the same expectations you did. I too was surprised with the lack of real ghosts. Sure there were plenty of metaphorical ghosts so I suppose in the end they were there, just not what I expected.

Having said that in the end I wasn't disappointed because I found the novel beautifully written. Coincidences aside the mystery served a purpose, I found it a good diversion for Katie -- a way, in some small part, to reconnect with the living through the dead.

Jackie said...

Michelle, I agree, there really was some very beautiful writing in this one. I especially loved the quote I pulled out.