Ghosts reminded me that, for lack of a better phrase, men ain’t shit. This book made me feel ‘seen’ in a way I didn’t know I needed until I was thinking about how to write about it. The last thing I noted down before I began writing was: “are these book notes or a diary entry FML.” I recognized a lot within this book and it came as much more of a comfort than I could have anticipated it to.
As I began reading I was concerned I wouldn’t like this book. Another book about a millennial who is successful career-wise but that just isn’t enough they also need love—ugh. I personally don’t enjoy stories that strongly centre plights of love. I respect that there is a market for it but it doesn’t appeal to me at all. So I felt a lot of apprehension at the start of this book as I felt this was the avenue it was going to take. I was wrong. I am fairly familiar with online dating and I know how hard it can be. I feel as though online dating isn’t really considered real dating. Especially by a lot of hipsters who shit on the apps they are speaking to me on them—go figure. I don’t think that’s fair though, because it is real dating, you meet real people and forge real relationships. I won’t lie and say that I am positively interested in dating every single person I “match” with but with some I do and it is just more convenient to vet men from the comfort of my own home. In a similar vein to how people don’t believe online dating isn’t real, I suspect some people don’t consider the connections they forge online to be of the same value if they had met maybe literally anywhere else? Alderton explores this dating landscape with such an incredibly intimate tone that is comforting to those (me) who know how hard it can be to date and how we totally aren’t crazy for being completely flawed when we are ghosted.
Ghosts has a familiarly feminist tone. Our main character Nina is totally a feminist (as I really hope we all identify as these days) however, like a lot of women I’m sure, she’s not opposed to be a bit of outward masculinity and patriarchal tendencies. I mean come on ladies, we can open our own doors, keep ourselves warm and buy our own drinks but it is sure as shit quite nice when someone else does it for us. We aren’t setting the movement back by any means so it’s okay to revel in the very small pleasures that the patriarchy grants us—lord knows we fucking deserve it. Nina and her best friend Lola acknowledge this throughout the novel a lot. It always made me giggle synonymously with their justifications because I feel that shit. I don’t think it is distinctly unfeminist to enjoy such things. Ghosts similarly asserts a strongly feminist tone that presented us with a range of different women who were each in their own way strong respectable women: Lola being a serial dater because she is determined (and rightly so) to meet her one true love, Nina’s mother changing her name to Mandy because it’s something she’s always wanted to do for herself, Lucy being accepting and supportive of Nina in her husbands wedding party despite being his ex. I think it can be easy to cast judgment on women and whether they are “doing” feminism correctly but there is no ONE correct way to do it; just because someone’s nature differs to yours doesn’t mean it’s incorrect. As they say nudity empowers some and modesty empowers others—there is no one typecast for the perfect women and Alderton shows us this really well.
Alderton has masterfully brought to life an accurate representation of what it is like to date NOW. I don’t aim to exclude anyone but in this instance I must draw the line in the sand clearly. If you have been in a relationship for a long time, if you don’t actively date or haven’t been for the last few years, I’m sorry but you couldn’t possibly know what it is like. I have been ghosted many times, I have been left with no explanations about how someone can go from being seemingly very interested in me to clearly very not. I have been constantly disappointed by the actions of men who simply aren’t grown enough to have a conversation about how they feel or to just tell me the truth. It’s not fair, and it’s not respectful and it’s completely upsetting. Ghosts made me feel so un-alone in these feelings (even though I will probably remain socially distanced from men forever going forward) because unlike most “millennial feminist I am totally okay on my own” books/movies I was comforted by the fact that Nina’s response felt mirrored to mine: a big fat what the fuck followed swiftly by a fuck you. I’ll be honest, without spoiling, there were elements of the novel that I would have gone about differently but that would have meant a shorter book. I have been called/known as/I know people think of me as a “man hater.” It hurts my heart to be seen this way because when do my feelings stop being valid and my image starts being negatively representative? Is it before or after a lot of people consistently disrespect me? I don’t hate men, let me be completely clear there. But what I do hate is continuously being treated with little to no respect. My philosophy here felt echoed in Ghosts. If we (I know I’m not alone here) hated men, we wouldn’t continue to hold up hope and give them more chances with us, and yet hope remains. We KNOW there are better and great men out there but there are also shitty people hanging about and it is okay, in fact encouraged in my household, to call them out for bad behaviour. I felt that this self-awareness about what we deserve as human beings was a drum that kept being beaten and I praise this because it’s important. Acceptance comes later; it’s inevitable that sometimes a person will have to move on with no explanation, this is something Nina explores but Alderton repeatedly highlighted different things like respect, decency, and more than the bare minimum that Nina, and by extension at times Lola, deserved. In mainstream contemporary novels I find that representations like this are vital. I imagine Ghosts will become a book of support to a generation of people who sympathize with Nina’s situation and I’m glad that it doesn’t miss the recognition step in the healing process.
Alderton acknowledges the good and the bad and the very bad parts of dating in a modern society. She knows that even the strongest feminists—naturally—like to be taken care of sometimes, but at the end of the day we can and will take care of ourselves. Ghosts is a book that has something to offer everyone but for me it felt like a hug I didn’t want to admit to needing. It made me laugh, it made me cringe, it made me want to feel a tiny bit of love, it made me sad, and it made me smile. I must mention that despite my main takeaways it highlights how there is always more to life. Life is a completely enigmatic thing and there will always be something else to worry about, or to cheer us up. All that being said—while I’m a strong independent woman who don’t need no man—it still fucking sucks to be ghosted.
By Dolly Alderton
336 pages. 2020.