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Ghosts: The Story of a Reunion Paperback – March 1, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
One of Britain's bestselling novelists seeks to engage the sensibilities of North American readers in this finely crafted and sometimes painful character-driven story of faith, loss and a reunion of old friends. The book opens with one of David Herrick's terror-filled nightmares. It's a waking incubus as well, as David muses with raw grief upon the everyday household objects that remind him of his beloved wife, Jessica, who has recently died. When a letter arrives from Jessica's best school chum, Angela Brook, David learns of one last item Jessica has left him. To procure it, he journeys to Angela's home, the ancient, crumbling, Headly Manor, which has a reputation for being haunted. Angela has put together a weekend reunion of their old St. Mark's youth group, and it is in the company of their old acquaintances that David exorcises some of his ghosts. Plass's character descriptions are refreshing in that he never succumbs to sentimentality or sidesteps more painful developments in an attempt to sugarcoat his novel or target a more conservative readership. Ghosts populate the book: of loved ones lost and of old patterns and relationships, and in the chilling accounts of a specter that may or may not haunt the ancient estate. Faith and all of its sometimes absurd trappings are portrayed with honest compassion-Plass is never bitter or harsh, but always authentic. American audiences will be delighted to discover this thoughtful and eloquent novelist and should warmly embrace this beautifully conceived and executed book.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
British writer Plass' Ghosts tells of David Herrick, a man grieving for his dead wife, Jessica. David has withdrawn into a solitary existence punctuated by dreams that seem like communications from the beyond and are full of "ghosts." With some reluctance, he accepts the invitation for a reunion of old friends from Jessica's friend Angela. Members of the group, each wounded by life in some way, talk their way through their fears, killing off ghosts one by one. Preachy, and not really a ghost story; but also graceful, and perhaps helpful for someone who has recently lost a loved one. John Mort
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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The worst out of the way first---I'm not sure if I buy some of the plot contrivance: why the five (other than David) accepted an invitation to this reunion, why they would feel at all open to sharing their deepest fears with people they (for the most part) hadn't seen in over a decade. Plass' solution is possible, but it feels as if it were on the fringes of possibility.
His characters and themes, on the other hand, are evidently and powerfully true-to-life for the evangelical Christian, so much so that when I felt myself poking holes in the plot, I told myself to stop---I didn't want to ask those questions of this book. It had too much other truth to tell me.
Adrian Plass is good at naming what goes on in the evangelical, and in this book specifically, what the evangelical is afraid of. We're afraid of death, afraid to find out that the vast majority of people we know are right (there really is no God), afraid that our secrets are too dark for the holiness our God and church demand of us, afraid that our "Christian" persona lies about our insecurities. Plass, as usual (see his other works), goes right ahead and names these fears---the worst is out in the open---then writes grace into the script. The people in the story have to name their worst fear in front of the other people (it's a sort of ice-breaker, go figure). Then the other characters in the story give the fearer love, acceptance, and hope with well-timed, well-chosen words and actions. Because Plass is so right about the fears, I'm ready to believe him when he talks about the grace. In fact, his book is grace, a gift of hope to the people who struggle in the ways that his characters struggle, so in a way, his book proves that what he says is right.
In particular, these characters return to their youth-group reunion bruised by other people, but through the others in this group comes the love that is their hope. That's a vision of the church I could get excited about.
Others have done a good job describing the book overall, so I'll skip on to its age-appropriateness:
There was a bit of strong language (50, 57, 103, 172) and a somewhat incongruous temptation scene (p.179). It was also chill-inducing scary at times (p. 138-9, 177), but that wasn't the main focus of the book. On the whole, the themes are probably less interesting to most younger readers (younger than, say, older teenagers?), but the content is not objectionable.
Note: these page numbers are from the 2001 hardcover (your mileage may vary).
If all this sounds like a setup for a predictable romance between David and Angela, you'll be delighted to know that British author Adrian Plass's writing is anything but predictable. He consistently turns away from the obvious plot path, opting instead for less-traveled roads that not only keep the story moving along but also offer far more interesting opportunities for the characters to show themselves for who they are. Each of the former friends who meet at the house for the weekend is a fully developed, fully believable character haunted by his or her personal ghosts. Headly Manor's ghosts may be imaginary, but the ghosts that accompany the reunion guests are all too real.
From the start, you sense that GHOSTS is going to turn out to be a "Christian" book --- God speed the day when we can discard that designation! --- like no other you've read. After an opening in which David has a nightmare within a nightmare, Plass begins to tip his hand and reveal himself as the extraordinary writer he is. His poignant portrayal of David's approach to processing his grief --- his unwillingness to move the books on Jessica's nightstand or disturb the other "tiny museums of personal randomness" for months after her death --- culminates in David's suggestion that God reward his faithful service in ministry by allowing Jessica to appear to him one last time. It's a request that under other circumstances David would likely call unbiblical, but grief does that to a person. It changes one's theology, if only temporarily.
The events of the weekend comprise the largest share of the story, a story that Plass tells both skillfully and beautifully. The skill is evidenced by his ability to express spiritual and psychological truth with subtlety and finesse; the beauty is evidenced in Plass's apparent love of language, which he uses with grace and elegance. Throughout, the dialogue and action are wholly believable; the reunion guests are real people whose faith has at times taken quite the beating --- and whose spiritual struggles are nowhere near over. As the weekend unfolds, so do the hidden lives of the former friends. The reunion ends up bringing together much more than seven very different people.
GHOSTS is Plass's U.S. fiction debut --- and a remarkable literary achievement. Ironically, before writing GHOSTS, Plass was best-known in England for religious satire and nonfiction books, including a commentary on the book of Mark enigmatically titled NEVER MIND THE REVERSING DUCKS. With this novel, he raises the Christian fiction bar higher. Highly recommended for readers who crave a beautifully told, compelling, and transforming story.
In any case, this is an excellent book, especially for someone who might be dealing with a loved-ones' death.