‘Langlands is haunted, but not by the ghost you think.’
Thus are we invited into the cloistered world of Ghost and the gently decaying mansion she has inhabited for the past seventeen years. A chimney tumbles, bringing forth secrets that our Ghost, Augusta McAndrew, could never have imagined as she teeters on the brink of adulthood, the closet bursting open on her family secrets.
As one dominant figure leaves Ghost’s life they are replaced with the beautiful form of teenager Tom which allows two distinct narrative voices to emerge. Ghost has little experience of people outside the pages of the books she finds in the dusty library at Langlands House. She processes her developing relationship with Tom through a filter of quaintly archaic literature that also informs her first-person voice.
Using a first-person narrative allows us to walk in Ghost’s shoes, to hear the echoes in the dust as she walks through her family’s past. It takes us into the wildness of Scottish weather, the isolation forged by distance and the boundaries that we create in our minds, difficult to step across even when the barriers that once guarded them have fallen.
This was less effective with Tom. He came across as a generic good-looking teenage boy, albeit one with a sweet heart. There was none of the hook of Ghost’s strangeness to draw me in and he only sparkled when viewed through her lens.
This is a difficult book to review without posting spoilers so apologies for being circumspect with the details. It is a thriller at its heart: who is Ghost and how did she come to Langlands? Where are her parents and why does she seem such a child out of time? Why has her grandmother Rose chosen to hide her away from the modern world?
The setting is excellent: Langlands’ remoteness and the large estate gives Ghost room to roam, to exist, to forage – but also to pass unnoticed. Often as we drive from A to B through life, you see the tips of a rooftop peep above a canopy of distant trees. Wonder who lives there, behind those remote walls. Ghost is one such tale.
The plot curves round to a surprising ending that made me think of all things repeating, like a wheel within a wheel. We see the cogs but we are caught in their pattern, unable to change their track. This was neatly done, but enough was left open for curiosity about what happens next. There were certain elements that I did question the validity of – the lack of curiosity (or maybe just sheer ineptitude) of the local police force for example – but there is enough in Ghost’s voice to keep me hooked, wondering where her sepia-tinged figure will lead to in the end.
Overall, Ghost is a satisfying read, well-paced and intriguing enough to keep the pages turning. Recommended to those who like sad sweet thrillers with a hint of history in the mix.