• THE GHOST IN LOVE •
Welcome to the luminous and marvelously inventive world of The Ghost in Love. A man falls in the snow, hits his head on a curb, and dies. But something strange occurs: the man doesn’t die, and the ghost that’s been sent to take his soul to the afterlife is flabbergasted. Going immediately to its boss, the ghost asks, what should I do now? The boss says, we don’t know how this happened but we’re working on it. We want you to stay with this man to help us figure out what’s going on.
The ghost agrees unhappily; it is a ghost, not a nursemaid. But a funny thing happens—the ghost falls madly in love with the man’s girlfriend, and things naturally get complicated. Soon afterward, the man discovers he did not die when he was “supposed” to because for the first time in their history, human beings have decided to take their fates back from the gods. It’s a wonderful change, but one that comes at a price.
The Ghost in Love is about what happens to us when we discover that we have become the masters of our own fate. No excuses, no outside forces or gods to blame—the responsibility is all our own. It’s also about love, ghosts that happen to be gourmet cooks, talking dogs, and picnicking in the rain with yourself at twenty different ages.
Boing Boing Review — Cory Doctorow
NPR review (includes audio review) —Alan Cheuse
Bookworm (interview) —Michael Silverblatt
"In The Ghost In Love Jonathan Carroll deepens his art, diving into his own obsessions with love and fate, without letting go of an ounce of the uncanny effervescent quality that has always caused readers to crave his narratives like an illegal substance. He's created a version of the world that shines like a beacon into our own."
—Jonathan Lethem, author of The Fortress of Solitude
"With The Ghost In Love, Jonathan Carroll is at the peak of his powers. An acknowledged master."
—Bruce Wagner, author of Memorial
“I envy anyone who has yet to enjoy the sexy, eerie, and addictive novels of Jonathan Carroll. They are delicious treats—with devilish tricks inside them.”
—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
"In his thirteenth novel, the whimsical Carroll continues to spin an alternate universe, one populated by ghosts, talking dogs, and the Angel of Death. Here Benjamin Gould has miraculously escaped certain death after hitting his head on the sidewalk. This unlikely event has upset the natural order, and his ghost, Ling, sent to tie up loose ends and usher Ben into the afterlife, is instead left to hang around in aimless fashion, cooking elaborate meals that humans can’t see and watching Ben mess up his once idyllic relationship with his girlfriend, German. So delightful a person is German, moving into every phase of her life at “full speed ahead, hopes ahoy, heart filled like a sail with reasonable optimism,” that Ling herself has fallen madly in love with her. In addition, Ben has discovered that he can read the thoughts and experience the emotions of Danielle Voyles, who has also survived a serious accident. Enlisting the help of Ling, German, and their faithful dog, Pilot, with whom he can now communicate, Ben decides to confront Danielle and figure out exactly what is happening to them. Although Carroll makes the architecture of his alternate universe unduly complicated, he also brings to it a highly appealing cast of characters and an enchanting sense of humor. Ben’s epic battle with his own self-destructive tendencies is made literal, comical, and metaphysical all at once. Delightful reading."
— BOOKLIST Magazine
Jonathan Carroll’s imagination resides partially in everyday reality but tends to go utterly bat shit. Anybody familiar with the New York native and Vienna resident’s fiction knows that it requires a bit more suspension of disbelief than we usually afford even more extravagant fabulists: Animals can talk; dogs sometimes serve as bridges to unseen worlds more complex than ours; and ordinary people often find themselves in very extraordinary situations. Carroll folds all of his signature tropes into The Ghost in Love, plus dozens more. The author’s 13th novel opens simply enough, with the ghost of failed chef Ben Gould preparing a lavish, invisible breakfast for the woman he loves—his girlfriend German Landis—all the while conversing with Pilot, the ancient mutt the couple share. Thing is, Gould isn’t actually dead. We learn through a series of flashbacks that Gould was scheduled to die after slipping and hitting his head on a curb, but a glitch in the celestial computer network left him alive; his ghost was dispatched, but now suddenly lacks a dead body to represent. The ghost—whose name is Ling—has no idea how long Gould will continue to live, or what, exactly, he’s supposed to do in the meantime. Stranded, Ling begins to exercise some of his ghostly gifts, treating the reader to wild bouts of time-travel, which allow him to communicate with Gould at different stages of his life, including his future stint as a murderous mobster. Needless to say, multiple realities unfold, contradict and overlap. Carroll packs more ideas into The Ghost in Love than most writers manage in a lifetime, and he does it with such ease that it’s hard not to surrender.
— Rod Smith for Time Out
Carroll has a gift for finding a fantastic core hidden inside everyday life that is down-the-rabbit-hole imaginative yet feels like fundamental truth. This story of a man, his girlfriend, and their dog finds the author in top form. Ben Gould hits his head on the sidewalk in an accident that should have killed him. Somehow he survives, but he's changed in ways that he cannot understand. So starts a magical tale in which Ben talks to his dog, Pilot; the ghost sent to monitor Ben falls in love with his girlfriend; and a mysterious knife-wielding man threatens them all. The novel is full of great characters who experience resonant moments: at a picnic of her former selves, a woman discovers how quickly we change; Ben's girlfriend finds power in a memory of food, love, and home; Ben and his loved ones face an angry mob of his insecurities and failings. Love, memory, and balancing the needs of our many selves are themes in this occasionally scary, often luminous work of unconventional fantasy. Strongly recommended for all fiction collections.
A ghost in the machine of living and dying By Rene Graham, Globe Correspondent | January 9, 2009
As befits modern lives overstuffed with beeping gadgets and vibrating gizmos, everything in "The Ghost in Love" goes awry due to a computer glitch. Not any old technical difficulty, mind you, but an otherworldly system meltdown - yes, even computers in heaven aren't immune to viruses - that leaves Ben Gould very much alive when a nasty fall on a slippery sidewalk should have killed him. So now Ben is literally the living dead (or the dead alive, perhaps), going about his days, walking his dog, and lamenting a break-up with his beloved girlfriend, German Landis, who knows something isn't quite right with the man she still loves. Oh, and about the love-struck spirit of the book's title. It's Ling, a kind of spectral personal assistant who arrives moments before what should have been Ben's death to escort the newly departed on his final journey. Now, at the urging of his boss, the Angel of Death, Ling sticks around to figure out what happens when a man somehow gets more time when his time should have been up. It's a ringing testament to the sublime talents of author Jonathan Carroll that the baroque premise of his latest novel doesn't play like an extended "Twilight Zone" knockoff. Yes, one is asked to suspend disbelief, but Carroll never expects his readers to check their brains at the door. He's too smart a writer to condescend with creaky gimmicks out of the afterlife playbook such as tunnels awash in blinding white light. Instead, he has written a vigorously imaginative book filled with moments of wonder and terror, designed to alter how we perceive the most mundane people and moments, whether it's a malodorous vagrant or dogs with a penchant for wandering around in the wee small hours. At first, only Pilot, a cranky shelter dog rescued by Ben and German, can see Ling. Well, not just see Ling, but talk to the ghost inhabiting Ben's apartment, since the language "Dog" is spoken only by canines and the dead. (As for Ling's moniker, apparently all ghosts have Chinese names.) Ling creates sumptuous meals for German, but she can neither see nor savor them. Cooking is one of the few earthly pleasures Ling enjoys - unlike the Angel of Death, who loves good pizza, and the movies of Carole Lombard and Veronica Lake. Still, for these two visitors, being on earth is about business, not pleasure, though there's little either can do about Ben's odd situation. In this crafty novel, Ling and the Angel of Death are like overwhelmed but diligent employees who spend their days methodically identifying problems and concocting solutions. They could be insurance adjusters, and the fact that their work is ushering people from this mortal coil is both incidental and gently reminiscent of Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda's understated masterpiece "After Life." In that film, those who have recently died spend a week with interviewers at a way station between earth and heaven deciding which single memory they will carry for eternity. Memories also come fast and furious for Ben, as well as German and Danielle Voyles, someone else who seems to have experienced the same burden (or is it a benefit?) of eluding death. Carroll easily could have turned his unpredictable story into another mushy "Ghost" or "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" (which the Angel of Death, a fan of black-and-white films, would likely enjoy). And yes, there are piquant passages here about the fragility of life and the persistence of fate. Still, the author never forgets that at its core, this is a ghost story, and at times, ghost stories are meant to be downright terrifying. Popular culture is littered with projects, both good and bad, that dwell on the ways common lives can collide with the ethereal unknowns that may await us all. With "The Ghost in Love," Carroll has created one of the best in recent memory: a freewheeling fantasy deeply grounded in its everyday humanity.
Renée Graham is a freelance writer.