Book Review: Ghosts, by Dolly Alderton

‘I got ghosted last week.’

‘What does that mean?’

‘It’s when a person just stops speaking to you instead of having a break-up conversation.’

‘Why’s it called ghosting?’

‘Number of schools of thought,’ she said, with the command of an academic. ‘Mostly commonly, it is thought to have come from the idea that you are haunted by someone who vanishes, you don’t get any closure. Others have said it derives from the three grey dots that appear ten disappear when someone is writing you an iMessage and then doesn’t send it. Because it looks ghostly.’


It’s been a while since I’ve stayed up into the early hours to finish reading a book (I need my beauty sleep!) but then along came Dolly’s Ghosts.

Dolly Alderton is two years older than me (two! WTF have I been doing with my life *shakes head and sighs into the keyboard*), and in her writing I have seen some of my life experiences reflected back at me. I wanted to put ‘voice of my generation’ there but it felt too cliché. You get what I’m trying to say. This is also a perfect demonstration of why she is an award-winning author and I’m not. Even though she’s only two years older than me. Why did I look that up.

A friend lent me Everything I Know about Love and when I read it I felt some things in my life that I hadn’t fully understood up until that point fall into place. If you haven’t read it, I cannot recommend it enough. Her mantra at the end of “I am enough. I am enough” resounded through my body as I read it and settled deep within. Even now, in moments of self-doubt I will repeat “I am enough” to myself.

I’m also a huge fan (was a huge fan, I should say as it has now finished running) of her podcast The High Low with Pandora Sykes. I’ve bought many a book on their recommendation. I’d say it’s been struggle knowing what to read now that the podcast is no more but it hasn’t at all, thanks Twitter.

Safe to say, Dolly has a special place in my bookish heart.

So, to the book. Ghosts follows Nina Dean who meets a guy called Max on a night out; they have a great time and she starts to find herself falling for him when, with no warning, one day he just completely vanishes. Nina is also facing challenges in other areas of her life: her father has become ill with dementia, she is trying to write a new cookbook for her publisher, and a new noisy neighbour has moved into the flat below her (ruining her beauty sleep). Nina is also seeing her friendships change as those close to her start getting married and having babies. Ghosts is about love and relationships but it is so much more than that. It’s a story about the strange kind of pressure of being surrounded by what appear to be perfect couples and feeling like everyone else has their lives together.

For me, the book so perfectly portrayed the shifts within our social groups as we start to transition from our twenties into our thirties. The way the book encapsulated some of the experiences I have had reminded me of a line in The History Boys by Alan Bennett: The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. There were so many scenes I read and thought: yes, that’s what it’s like! For example, one scene where Nina visits a friend who has just had a baby, it not only captured a discussion about perineum massages that I had actually just had with my own friends, but also how I feel looking to the future and noticing these shifts taking place:

Five years ago, I could barely have differentiated between a one-year-old and a one-day-old baby. Now, I knew about Braxton Hicks and mastitis and pre-labour perineum massage. I know about sleep training, growth spurts, teething and potty training. The lexicon of our peer group morphed on every decade. Soon I would know about school-catchment areas, then university applications, then pension schemes. Then care homes, then the name of every funeral parlour in my postcode.


Honourable mentions in the Yes, that’s what it’s like! category must also go to Dolly’s agonisingly perfect descriptions of hen-dos (the games, am I right? the bossy lead bridesmaid, we all know one) and the wedding itself, which almost floored me. The conversation topics at the wedding breakfast were so on the nose and had me laughing such as the way married couples talk about being married (y’all definitely do that, by the way). The other observation that made me laugh out loud was how men’s conversational techniques at social gatherings change as they get older:

Time and time again I observed that most men think a good conversation is a conversation where they have imparted facts or information that others didn’t already know…. or given someone tips or advice on an upcoming plan, or generally left their mark on the discourse like a streak of piss against a tree trunk. If they learnt more than they conveyed over the course of an evening, they would feel low; like the party hadn’t been a success or they hadn’t been on good form.


That spoke volumes to me. VOLUMES. I cannot tell you how often I have observed my boyfriend’s friends do this at gatherings when they try to explain politics, economics and trigonometry to each other with all the seriousness of news-readers (I say this with love, in case they ever read this… which, let’s be honest, they probably won’t). It’s worse now that it’s all on zoom because you can’t slip away and have a side conversation.

I loved that the book just so accurately portrayed the sensations that come when friendships change uncontrollably and irreversibly, and how we adapt with them because… well, it’s time to change.

One of the most poignant parts of the novel is Nina’ relationship with her father, who is slowly losing himself to dementia, especially a scene where the two of them visit a Hungarian bakery together. Dolly also looks at Nina’s relationship with her mother as they try to rockily navigate their way through the new challenges. Nina makes mistakes and shows her flaws but it also made me think about how I would react in that situation.

The moment when Nina is ghosted by Max caused a physical reaction from me. It is shown in the book as a transcript of messages which start off between the two of them and then becomes a one-sided conversation from Nina apologising for bothering him, asking what is going on and why he isn’t responding any more. My goodness, I felt it. I felt it to the point that I had to ring my boyfriend to check that he was still there.

I want to finish this post with a personal story of being ghosted because sharing is caring guys and gals. A few years ago, I fell hard and fast for a guy at the gym. We spent a lot of time talking and getting to know each other over the dumbbells. I began imagining, as you do, the life we would build together, the holidays we would go on, the house we would live in, if only he didn’t have a girlfriend. And then, one day he told me the words I had been waiting to hear: they had broken up. All of a sudden we became friends on social media and started talking about non-gym related topics. We went out for a drink and curry and then I never heard from him again. He literally quit his membership at the gym the next week without saying a word. On the one hand, the curry wasn’t a good one. I wouldn’t recommend the place we went to and I was sorely tempted to blame it on that: I had to really chew a piece of chicken whilst also having a deep and meaningful conversation. I found out later that he had started a relationship with one of the employees at the gym. At least I came out of it looking well-toned, if crushed.

Published by luggageandscribble

Oh hey, just a girl who loves reading.

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