Jonathan Carroll,
The Ghost in Love
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008)

The cooking scenes kept me reading, even though I'm not much of a cook.

Jonathan Carroll's new novel, The Ghost in Love, bogs down in places. Every now and again, I found myself plodding tiredly through inexplicable plot points or lengthy expositions about the mechanics of ghosts, self-recognition and time travel. A few times, I thought about putting it aside for something else.

But then I remembered those cooking scenes. The protagonist, Ben Gould, loves to cook, and he approaches the craft with all senses on overdrive. He associates memories with recipes and scents from the kitchen, he cooks when he's happy or upset, he cooks to impress. And Carroll wrote those scenes with the mastery of a gourmet chef; either he's quite the cook himself, or he did considerable research into the subject. Either way, those scenes kept telling me that anyone who can write them deserves to hold my attention to the end.

It was worth it.

The story centers on Gould's death, or rather, his unscheduled escape from death. He fell on cue, cracked his head as intended, but he just didn't die from the injury the way he was supposed to. That boggled the minds of the Angel of Death, who was there to collect him, and Ling, the ghost who was on hand to take over the business of Gould's afterlife and tie up any loose ends. So the Angel (let's call him Stan) tells Ling to hang around and see what happens next with Ben. And there's quite a lot, so we're lucky that Ling can speak to dogs and get some insights from Ben's elderly pooch, Pilot.

It might be a complication that Ling falls in love with Ben's girlfriend, German. It might also complicate things that Ben, who starts acting oddly after his not-death, and German have already broken up messily when the book begins. It certainly is a complication when the homeless man in the orange shirt stabs Stan, and Ben starts seeing into the mind of a woman he doesn't know, but who also didn't die on schedule.

The book involves swift, often unexpected trips into the past, picnics with one's selves, flashbacks, introspections, negotiations, conversations with splintered character flaws, hiding in a closet, vivid memories, a perfect date at a fancy Chinese restaurant, zouk, burnt marshmallows, theological evolutions and a painted rock. It's a love story, a ghost story, a philosophical yarn and a cautionary tale. And that's not even the half of it.

This book does get confusing at times. But that just makes it all the more satisfying as it sorts itself out. And if you're patient, it will. In The Ghost in Love, Carroll has written a sensitive, introspective tale that stabs at the heart of what makes Ben be Ben and, I suppose, what makes us, us.

review by
Tom Knapp

6 December 2008

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new