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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2011
Format: Paperback
A lot of readers regard "The Sunlight Dialogues" as Gardner's masterpiece. I disagree. Mickelsson's Ghosts, his last book, is, without question, his masterpiece. The book ranges through time and space with magnificent prose poetry. Gardner's words flow like a beautiful entrancing river. To make an analogy, Huckleberry Finn was Mark Twain's masterpiece, and Tom Sawyer was the book everyone enjoyed and pointed to as his greatest work. The same applies to Gardner. Mickelsson's Ghosts is Gardner's Huckleberry Finn. It stands as one of the top ten best novels of the twentieth century. It ranks up there with The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, On the Road, The Old Man and The Sea, Under the Volcano, Brave New World, 1984, etc. Gardner's tragic and early death deprived us of a great and gifted writer.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
You know you're reading a good book when you find yourself purposefully delaying the conclusion to savour the experience longer. That's the kind of book this is: immensely detailed, intimate, fascinating. John Gardner was truly a master craftsman, and this is a masterpiece. The characters, minor and major, are fascinating, from the kooky old man next door who claims to be a witch, to Mickelsson himself, a philosopher with a brilliant mind, gradually coming undone as life delivers blow after blow against him.

The final scene is one I doubt I will ever forget, though I won't spoil it for you here ... do yourself a favour, get hold of this book. It's one to remember.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Just finished Michelson's ghosts. I'll try not to repeat the comments of other reviewers. What I will say is that I've rarely completed a book this long that I have such mixed feelings about.
Gardner has crammed a lot into this sprawling novel: mystery, murder, sex, politics, psychology, philosophy, academic backbiting, poetic prose, dime store novel prose, the mundane, the supernatural...Whatever your taste you are likely to find something to chew on. Unfortunately while savoring your bites, I think you'll find that the book is too long, that the prose will occasionally require the use of some of the antacid Michelson episodically chews, that Gardner suffers from logorrhea, and that much of style is borrowed from others. It's a salad of Updike, Stephen King, Oates etc, garnished with the ghosts of Nietzche, Collingwood, Wittgenstein, Marx etc. I suspect he never learned what most of the great composers and writers understood: that there is much music between the notes and much thought in what is left unsaid. And yet, despite the indigestion, Gardner provides enough to keep you from going hungry. And lots to think about.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Mickelsson's Ghosts was John Gardner's final novel. He died tragically at 49 in a motorcycle accident not far from his home in 1982, shortly after the book was published. I discovered Gardner's fiction in the late '70s with October Light, and then Mickelsson's Ghosts in '82. His work has always remained with me, and it had been my intention for decades to return to him one of these days. This reading of Mickelsson's Ghosts is my second, and the start of my plan to continue with October Light, The Sunlight Dialogues, and Nickel Mountain.

The novel tells the sad, pathetic tale of Peter Mickelsson, a once promising philosopher, now reduced to teaching courses at Binghamton University, divorced and nearly broke, hounded by the I.R.S., a drunk and a lecher, paranoid, and quite possibly going mad. Nothing is going well for Peter.

As the novel opens, Peter is seeking some refuge from the "stifling, clammy heat of the apartment his finances had forced him to take, on the third floor of an ugly old house on Binghamton's West Side - the nice part of town, everybody said" by purchasing a gloomy old house in the mountains outside Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, 35 miles from his job at the university. Sure, he can't afford it, what with his ex-wife and the I.R.S. breathing down his neck, but that doesn't stop Peter Mickelsson.

With that move, Peter Mickelsson, the rationalist, the philosopher and academic, finds himself in alien territory, midst water diviners, rumored hauntings, and the occasional religious cult. He soon learns that the house he is now living in is rumored to be haunted.

Peter Mickelsson, proud ethical philosopher, starts an affair with a young prostitute, then a colleague from the university. He contemplates robbing a man of his money. He begins seeing the purported ghosts.

His life is crumbling around him. And seemingly his philosophy cannot save him.

Gardner weaves a wonderfully rich and complex tale of this tortured soul.

John Gardner was an incredible writer, crafting some of the most psychologically full characters in fiction. His deep moral sense is evident in all his work. It is all the more sad and unforgivable that much of his work should so soon be out of print, and that he should be so little known to modern readers. John Gardner deserves a place among the great writers of last century.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2009
Format: Paperback
Frequently quoting Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Martin Luther, the central character of this rambling, nearly-great novel is infuriating, and sometimes insufferable, but worth taking the time to get to know. I don't think the sheer physicalness of a character has ever been presented so convincintly in a modern novel. But, it is Mickelsson's detiorating mental state that takes over the book, and this element of the novel, at times, lacks consistency. It is as if Mickelsson can turn his crazy self on and off.

There are a series of mysterious deaths that puncutate the novel, and just when I was ready to give up on getting everything solved, it is all rather brilliantly put together.

This is an incredibly ambitious book, peopled with eccentric characters from both the small town in Northeastern Pennsylvania where Mickelsson resides and the SUNY campus in upstate New York where he teaches. There is a subplot involving a Mormon conspiracy. And ghosts. And did I mention German Philosphy?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
A bit too much philosophy and theology for me, but I enjoyed the characters. They were all a little "off," just like people in our lives.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Gardner was one of my favorite authors; I considered him up there with Joyce Carol Oates, John Updyke and John Irving. Somehow I missed this novel 30 years ago.
He is a hard read (as are the above mentioned at times) not only because he weaves in many "intellectual" thoughts (e.g of Martin Luther, Nietzsche et al) that I had to read several times to digest, but because I always got the feeling that I was really reading the massive guilt and depression of John himself and not just of the fictional main character. It was as if I inadvertently opened someone's diary and read something too personal for public consumption. (Pat Conroy is a writer that impacts me in a similar fashion.)
I mourned Gardner's early death, but his motorcycle "accident" seemed to be telegraphed in his writings (including this one).
This is not for someone looking for a "story".
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Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
“Lord, what fools these mortals be.”
—Puck, in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

On page 286 of John Gardner’s novel Mickelsson’s Ghosts (1982), the protagonist, Peter J. Mickelsson, says to Jessica Stark (Ph.D., Sociology), “I like order.” Ironically, Mickelsson’s life is in great disorder. His life is spinning out of control: rationality collapsing into irrationality, cosmos crumbling into chaos.

A professor of philosophy, Mickelsson mourns the lost love suffered in a divorce from his wife, Ellen. He is in financial ruin, virtually bankrupt because of alimony payments, is hounded by the IRS for three years of unpaid taxes, and is reduced to writing bad checks that begin to bounce. His teaching career at the university is in shambles, and he wolfs down Di-Gels like candy.

So what is Mickelsson to do? He purchases an old, run-down, ramshackle farmhouse, reputed to be haunted, near Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, in the Endless Mountains, at which he works like a dervish to renovate, in a desperate attempt to escape his many problems and silence his demons.

Mickelsson suffers psychotic episodes, “seeing” in the house (which was once occupied by Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of Mormonism, and at which a murder was committed) the spirits of long-dead people. Turning from community in a hermit-like seclusion, he suffers tortured bouts of weariness, depression, misery, gloom, despair, and agony.

Mickelsson’s world is haunted by dream-thoughts, flash-backs, fantasies, memories, and dreams—images teeming in his tortured brain, which float in the ocean of his consciousness as in Nietzsche’s sea of eternal recurrence.

One of Mickelsson’s worst obsessions is that he is a compulsive womanizer. Witness his ill-advised infatuations: with a 17-year-old-girl, Donnie Matthews; his involvement with one of his philosophy students; and his desperate hunger for Jessica Stark’s affection.

We cringe as Mickelsson’s once-brilliant mind descends into darkness. He himself realizes that his teaching career has been a fraud, and that he is in danger of becoming a buffoon, wearing the jester’s ridiculous cap and bells.

In A Treatise of Human Nature, the Scottish philosopher David Hume sums up, in a nutshell, Mickelsson’s fatal flaw, “Reason is . . . the slave of passion.” In spite of Mickelsson’s many failures to live up to his own ethical ideals, however, one pulls for him, hoping he can extricate himself from his morass of troubles.

In The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx (with assistance from Friedrich Engels) writes, “A specter is haunting Europe—the specter of communism.” Likewise, a specter haunts Mickelsson’s Ghosts—the specter of Friedrich Nietzsche. Gardner quotes Nietzsche on numerous occasions, so often that one loses count. To a lesser degree, the ghosts of Martin Luther (Nietzsche’s bête noir) and Ludwig Wittgenstein (one of Nietzsche’s “children”) flit in and out of the book’s pages.

A powerful psychological/existential tale of the slings and arrows that flesh is heir to, Mickelsson’s Ghosts is a brilliant philosophical novel that will intrigue anyone with a philosophical bent. Gardner’s last novel may very well be his best.

ABOUT JOHN GARDNER:

Born in Batavia, New York, in 1933, John Champlin Gardner, Jr., was a novelist, essayist, literary critic, and university professor. He was killed on September 14, 1982 in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, when he lost control of his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. He is probably best known for his novel Grendel (1971), a best-selling retelling of the Beowulf myth from the monster’s point of view. Among his other best-selling and widely respected works are The Wreckage of Agathon (1970); The Sunlight Dialogues (1972); Nickel Mountain (1973); October Light (1975); Mickelsson’s Ghosts (1982); and The Art of Fiction (1983).

For other book reviews by Roy E. Perry, please visit:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/cdp/member-reviews/A2MVUWT453QH61/ref=cm_cr_auth/002-6294896-4602409?%5Fencoding=UTF8
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on April 10, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
This was my first step into Mr.Gardner's world . Mickelsson's Ghosts deserves a toast . Academia and the loss of humanity ,overcome with philosophy .In the middle of Mormon a Habitat in Pennsylvania Mickelsson is immersed in a world he ,or you and me ,never, imagined before .
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on August 22, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
This professor's ghosts are mostly internal! I loved seeing his haunted world through the eyes of a philosopher. I enjoyed learning about some of the basics of important philosophers ideas.
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