11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2009
What a delight to find a new author. What's even better is finding out he's been writing for years and there are all of these undiscovered countries to explore. I dislike too much information in reviews and on book jackets. (And besides, you can find out as much as, or more than you want, from other reviews.) So let me just say that if you enjoy traveling with the likes of Kurt Vonnegut(Breakfast of Champions) Tom Robbins(on his mellow days, something like Jitterbug Perfume) or even Richard Bach (Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah) you may LOVE Jonathan Carroll. I think at the very least you will enjoy traveling with him in the world of THE GHOST IN LOVE.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
In the hands of a more facile writer, this could have been a phenomenal book. The story is imaginative and inventive, combining abstract concepts of Jung and turning them into concrete physical reality. Carroll is not a bad writer--he gets the job done, but with too much whimsy and not enough atmosphere. The story has a fluid arc and he ties loose ends together. However, there is no muscle to his prose and no heft to his characterizations. The story has a profound and powerful theme, but it bordered on sugary at times and left no room for moral ambiguity. A very creative story suffered from an uninspiring, mundane narrative and portrayal.
Ben Gould has a brush with death and survives, now accompanied by his ghost. The human struggle to become an integrated whole instead of just living on the surface of our thoughts and actions is universal. Jung identified the subconscious, the unconscious, and the conscious parts of our nature. He noted that unless we are enlightened to these aspects of ourselves, we tend to live narrowly on the surface, conscious state. But the underlying fears, feelings, and buried experiences impede us when we do not acknowledge them and deal with the complexities and contradictions that have accumulated. What Carroll does is make these mental states manifest in physical form in order that some of his characters can literally confront their conflicted, repressed, and suppressed "selves" and fully integrate into a whole, vital self. Ben's journey, which is initially circumspect, is a quest for wholeness. We are our own worst enemies! What a beautiful and humane concept for a story.
Ben's age is left out, as well as his personality. He hasn't allowed himself to blossom. This imperils his relationship with his now ex-girlfriend, German, who is a bit more satisfying but still suffers from lackluster appeal. Carroll's descriptions may have been intentionally vague, especially with Ben, to illuminate his lack of full engagement with life. However, German's character, which is a counterpoint to Ben's, did not lift-off for me. She was sweet and bland and forgettable.
The ghost has an essential role,(and I do not want to give away the ghost's raison d'etre) but is a little too precious--I do not think the author intended that, but he didn't pull off his design with allure. Even when the ghost's presence is understood toward the end of the novel, I winced at the overly adorable character.
Rounding out the cast are Jung's archetypes, (a necessary ingredient in Jung's psychology), a woman who shares something poignant with Ben, some ingenious anthropomorphic creatures, and Ben and German's dog. It is the dog, Pilot, who was the most interesting and fully developed. Most of the other characters are eccentric with a limited supply of essence, although important to the dynamics of the story.
The innovative plot is refreshing and ripe. I would give 5 stars for its provocative creativity and intelligence. That is what kept me reading to the story's completion.
The mood and atmosphere remain the biggest problems in the narrative. This is a surreal world with (supposedly) eerie juxtapositions and some creepy, idiosyncratic characters. Individuals and scenes flicker in and out and time is a loose concept, which could be very suspenseful and unearthly. But the prose style and language choices annihilate the story's suspense--it is too banal and lacks the sensuousness and shimmer that would have provided texture and tautness. I did not thoroughly inhabit the world that Carroll created because I was not sensually pulled into it; dramatic tension disappeared with the ghost because of the bland execution of story.
A visionary director may conceivably make this novel into a compelling movie. By furnishing the film with nuances and subtleties of story and blending a haunting atmosphere with macabre wit, rich characters, and psychological intensity, this could achieve with a camera what it failed to communicate with prose.
21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on October 8, 2008
...and when you read this work of art, my title will make sense to you. ;)
To begin, this book is amazing. It's completely out of this world while taking place in modern day reality, if that's possible! Wildly inventive with enough regular life mixed in to make it perfect.
Its reminiscent of a couple of other things that I love and not in a copy cat kind of way. Johnathan Carroll has a similar writing style to Neil Gaiman, with a very whimsical prose and they're both beyond creative. At times it reminded me of The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger with the time travel and love aspects. Also of the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for the "what is going on?!" kind of feel, like you're totally just chasing yourself in circles. If any of these interest you, I think you'd love this book.
There was so much story in 308 pages, that it's impossible to categorize. I won't go over what it's about because it can be read in the Amazon description or in another review. I will say, it was much different then I expected from the short synopsis that I read. But don't mistake 'different' for bad. This book was enlightening, amazing, funny, and thought provoking. A lot of the time I found myself exclaiming outloud -- tons of "what?!?!" or "you've got to be kidding" coming out of my mouth without my realizing it until my boyfriend would ask from another room what was wrong. It had feelings of The Time Traveler's Wife in that a couple times I was just so entirely confused I had to put down the book and work it out in my head. Sometimes It was so close to over my head, but then I would be able to grasp it. Most of the time I can speed read thru books, but this one I wanted to savor, and I took my time with it, not reading more then 50 pages at a time. It's main themes are love, learning to live with all parts of yourself both good and bad, and taking control of your own destiny.
UPDATE 12/08: I let my best friend and my mom borrow this book and neither of them liked it. My best friend isn't so keen on fantastical stuff mixed into reality so that's definitely why it didn't work for her. She particularly hated one of the creatures in the book, which I think is what really ruined it for her. My mom usually reads kids fantasy books(Harry Potter, Twilight series, Erragon), so it was too far out for her as well. I like stories that make me think, analyze and that I have to really have a super imagination for.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I LOVE Jonathan Carroll's books. I love the crazy places his books take me, and the odd people I meet and the way he can be traveling down one path and then so subtly go a different way...while I am still happily going the original direction. When I finally catch on, it's still a delight to backtrack and join him on his new route.
I stumbled upon "A Ghost in Love" in Auntie's Bookstore in Spokane, WA. Little did I know that one of my favorite writers had a new book out (well, I guess not THAT new), but Auntie's would be the place I would find it.
Somehow I held off and didn't start "Ghost" until days later when I was ready to sit down and bit off a big chunk, and then I fell into the world of Ben Gould and German Landis, and Pilot, their dog.
The reader is introduces to German in a perfect way, "Fifteen blocks away, a woman was walking down the street, carrying a large letter `D'." Of course she was. In a Jonathan Carroll book, of course she was. It is explained later, and everything ends up making sense, it's just a wonderful of making sure the reader is paying attention.
"A Ghost in Love" is about love and life and the choices people make in both. It deals with who people are at various stages in their lives and how later, all of those people and choices intersect. Instead of waxing philosophic about two such universal subjects, Carroll creates a world of ghosts, talking dogs and verses...and makes his points with a different slant to them.
"A Chinese farmer invented the idea of ghosts three thousand years ago as a way of explaining to his precious grandson what happens to people after they die. God thought it was such a novel and useful idea that He told his angels to make the concept real and allow it to flourish within the system."
And "German Landis simply didn't understand people who moped. Life was too interesting to choose suffering. Although she got a big kick out of him, she thought her brother, Guy, was goofy for spending his life writing songs only about things that either stank or sucked. In response, he drew a picture of what her gravestone would look like if he designed it: a big yellow smiley face on it and the words I LIKE BEING DEAD!"
Although I keep mentioning the humor and wonderful absurdity that I find in Carroll's books - it's the heart to them that keeps me coming back. He creates characters that I root for and laugh with and start to adore.
"Danielle put a hand flat against her chest. "We're born with everything in here - everything we need to be happy and complete. But as soon as life starts frightening us, we give away pieces of ourselves to make the danger go away. It's a trade: you want life to stop scaring you, so you give it a part of yourself. You give away your pride, your dignity, or your courage...When all you feel is fear, you don't need dignity. So you don't mind giving that away - at the moment. But you regret it later because you'll need all those pieces."
I found such beauty in this book. Even though I was lost at times, many times, it's such a wonderful journey that I didn't care. When by turns, I can read something that makes me laugh out loud and then something that makes me slow down and read again to capture the meaning and beauty of a phrase, then I am enjoying a book to the fullest.
And in this book, there was a part about a childhood object that took me back in time, recovered a memory for me that I'd though I'd lost.
"Usually at least once in a person's childhood we lose an object that at the time is invaluable and irreplaceable to us, although it is worthless to others. Many people remember that article for the rest of their lives...If we describe it to others and explain why it was so important, even those who love us smile indulgently because to them it sounds like a trivial thing to lose. Kid stuff. But it is not. Those who forget about this object have lost a valuable, even crucial memory. Because something central to our younger self resided in that thing. When we lost it, for whatever reason, a part of us shifted permanently."
For me, that object was an ivory (probably fake ivory) bracelet that my dad bought me at a Chinese restaurant. When it broke, I knew something, some part of me, was broken and couldn't stop crying. When I read the passage above, the memory of the delight in having it and the sorrow in losing it came back to me.
That's the power of books. We live lives that are not our own, and in doing so, discover things about ourselves and others that we might never have known, or have forgotten. This idea of forgotten or unknown aspects to ourselves is woven throughout "A Ghost in Love" in a wonderful way. We are the sum of all that we have done...and more than that, we are different things to different people.
"Why do people love us, Ben? We're always trying to figure that out, but only by using our own point of view. That's so limited. Sometimes they love us for things we don't even know about ourselves. For example, they love our hands. My hands? Why would someone love my hands? But they've got their reasons. You must accept that and realize that the Ben they know is different from the Ben you know."
"The Ghost in Love", too, is a book that is different for me than it is for any other person; all books are. The version of it read through my eyes? Wonderful.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
"The Ghost in Love" is an impossible book to pigeonhole. It is delightfully creative and entertaining while also being thought-provoking in how it tackles some fairly heavy topics: What is destiny, and can humans escape their destinies? What creates happiness? And, ultimately, what determines a person's identity? When I read a book I own and see a passage I think is particularly thought-provoking, I'll place a tiny dog-ear on the page. I knew this book was special when I finished it and saw dozens of tiny dog-ears sprinkled across the pages.
Take, for example, this conversation between two characters. When one character assures another that she likes being alive, the second (one of the bad guys in the book) responds, "Why? Life's chaotic, full of pain and suffering. It's unreliable and as disorderly as you can get. Nothing in life lasts, nothing's permanent, and there's not one thing that you can trust 100%. Admit it: if a person had all those lousy qualities, you'd never want to be around them."
What makes this novel so remarkable is that all of these insights are embedded in prose that is well-written, easy to read, and entertaining, with a wry sense of humor and right-on-target reflections on humanity.
Your only job as a reader is to suspend disbelief, fasten your seat belt, and go along for a rollicking romp through the nature of death, reality, and the meaning of life. But if you can wrap your head around concepts like the Angel of Death appearing in the form of a plate of bacon and eggs; dogs that talk; people that can understand talking dogs; fictional animals that look like earless dogs that possess enormous powers; oh, and of course, ghosts; you'll be glad you did so... because this is a novel that will have you thinking long after the final page has been turned.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Humorous novels about the undead, the not-quite-dead and the squishy, ectoplasmic dead are fun to read. It is sort-of like whistling past the graveyard but with a rigor-mortis-like grin. The Ghost in Love uses an idea similar to that used in the 1941 movie classic Here Comes Mr. Jordan (later remade in 1978 as Heaven Can Wait), in which a heavenly screw-up (in both films an over-anxious angel, in the book something entirely different) causes an untidy series of earthly problems. When a man falls in the snow and hits his head and dies, astonishingly his death... well, let's just say it is interrupted and therefore his death is not quite administratively or bureaucratically complete. The ghost that is sent to take the man's soul away consults his boss (someone like Claude Rains, presumably) and is told to stick with the not-quite-corpse until an answer for the problem can be found. The situation quickly becomes even more complex as issues like love and free will rear their pesky heads. The Ghost In Love illustrates quite adroitly how a simple idea can create a series of complex problems that desperately require a solution. Jonathan Carroll's novel is poignant and funny, with several layers of meaning - such as the nature of identity and free will, how we live (or don't live) our fleeting lives and the real value of love - if you're inclined to look for them. The Ghost in Love is an entertaining and moving fantasy novel that is, like some of the best in the genre, more about real life than is initially obvious.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
After taking over two weeks to read a book I wasn't really enjoying, whose 360 pages seemed to go on forever, it was a complete delight to read a new book by Carroll. Completely absorbed, I would not let it be pried from my hands and I read it in 24 hours, and was quite surprised to find that it was 300 pages-"What?!?" I said, "It can't be! It went by in a flash!"
In "The Ghost in Love", Carroll raises his special brand of magical realism to a higher degree than usual. Ben Gould has an accident; it is his predetermined time to die. But he doesn't. Something has gone wrong with how the world works, and even stranger things start happening. His ghost- who is a woman named Ling-, sent to tie up loose ends, is told by the Angel of Death to just stick around and watch how things play out. Pretty soon, Ben can see and talk to her. He can also understand his dog when it talks. Soon he and a woman who also survived dying at her appointed time are time traveling and talking with their past selves and learning from them...
The events don't slow down for a moment and things progress at breakneck speed. To survive what is happening, Ben must learn to take charge of his life- all components of his life. Part love story, part metaphor, part fantasy, part Jungian psychology personified, "The Ghost in Love" is a fascinating read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The Ghost in Love is a strange tale. It's about the big things: life, death and love. It's about Ben Gould's mystical journey into the unknown when he refuses to die at his given time, and there are others like him who twist and bend the universe into unknown territory upon their refusal to go gently into that good night.
The strange thing about the book is that it works! There are talking dogs, a ghost that cooks invisible gourmet food, angels, a stalker in the form of a homeless man and others. The book keeps you reading and it's full of twists and turns that lead you to enlightenment.
It's a thought provoking book that had me looking back at my prior self as do the characters in this book - they actually get to meet themselves at different stages of their lives and the result is very cool. While one character saw herself as she looked at different times, another saw different people as himself that were all a part of him at one time or another - sounds strange but you'll understand if you pick up this little gem of a story.
Ghosts in Love is a great book to snuggle with while the cold winter winds blow outside. It will warm you with its wit and originality and give you a fresh view on things when you look up from the book and view the world with a new insight.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
"The Ghost in Love" is a bizarre page-turner that breaks all the rules of death and ghosts as we know them. According to Jonathan Carroll, God decided to create ghosts only because people believed in them anyway and they seemed like a good idea. Their purpose would be to tie up loose ends after a person died. Strangely, the ghost wouldn't have to look like the person they belonged to since they operated on a plane of existence where they could only been seen by other ghosts and by animals.
Ling is Ben's ghost. Except ... Ben didn't die when he was fated to die and he starts to be able to have conversations with his own ghost. In fact, all around the world, people are refusing to die when the Angel of Death comes to collect them. These people find that cheating death gives them ghostly powers as well as other powers like being able to see through someone else's eyes and time travel into one's own past. I did enjoy how this novel had me thinking about the best parts in my life. If I had the ability to relive the best moments of my life, which ones would I choose? It's nice to read a novel every now and then that transports you not only into the story but also into your own nostalgic memories.
I'm not sure why the title of this novel is "The Ghost in Love" since that seems to be such a small part of the story. Ling (Ben's ghost) does fall in love with Ben's girlfriend and does woo her by cooking her a magnificent ghost breakfast that she can't see. But this strange love triangle seems like such an insignificant part of the story as a whole.
Mis-titled or not, this is one of my favorite reads of the year. If you're going to choose one bizarre fantasy novel to read this year, choose "The Ghost in Love". And then set aside an entire day to read it because you're not going to want to put it down until you're finished with it.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2008
I have to admit to something first: I love Jonathan Carroll's writing, so as soon as I heard his latest was out, I couldn't wait to read it. What I remember most strikingly about this book is is how much I loved the way it built up to an amazing ending...I think it's one of Carroll's strongest endings ever. And by amazing ending, what I mean is that you start the book thinking you're going in one direction, then in the middle you're reading with your mouth open wondering what new surprises are around the corner...everything seems to be popping in every direction. But as you move towards the end, it's almost like some divine light is starting to shine. It's very spiritual and therapeutic. The dialogue is so rich with thought. I find fascinating the way Carroll has portrayed the concept of multiple selves having to come to peace with one another. It's very raw though: not touchy-feely nice, which I really liked. In Buddhism, there is a notion that every man faces seven enemies in his lifetime: sickness, hunger, betrayal, envy, greed, old age and then death. This book seems to be very much about that but also about how man might evolve from his current way of being, which I find fascinating.