Book Review: The Word Ghost by Christine Paice

Book review by Friederike Krishnabhakdi-Vasilakis

The Word Ghost Review

I must admit I do judge a book by its cover. Every single time. Being a visual person, the cover is my first point of contact, a first impression, and often the reason why I pick up a book – not because of its title or the author. When I came across the cover of The Word Ghost by Christine Paice, I loved it at first sight and had to have it.

On the cover of The Word Ghost we find depicted the silhouette of a girl with a bike, clearly set in the 1970s by her sartorial attributes. She is juxtaposed with the fainter silhouette of a young man with a book in his hand (and a graveyard in the background) who – by putting title and images together – clearly is a ghost from times past. Both figures are framed by two trees, whose branches are intertwined and appear almost as one. Underneath the joining branches the title: The Word Ghost – Finding love, losing love and discovering who you are in a village with no lights. It is a cover full of promises.

But I will come back to that cover later.

The story is told by the main character, Rebecca Abraham Budde, who is a quirky, opinionated teenager. Her propensity to listen to her ‘imaginary friends’, such as Jane Eyre and other Brontё characters, invades her real-world settings – namely that of her new home in the village of Brightly that is located at ‘the end of the world’ – and is rather charming.

In fact, the story is interspersed with poetry by Byron, Shelley and others, reading like an homage to the greats in English poetry and their transcendent influence across time and space. Rebecca’s literary voices in her head are the only constant in her life: they are Rebecca’s muse. The Byrons, Shelleys and Brontёs (and their fictional characters) are the real friends that help her navigate the treacherous passageways from childhood to young adulthood.

This brings me to Algernon Keats, the word ghost, and back to the idea of a book cover. While I was quite charmed by Rebecca in part one, I was looking forward to meeting the hero of the story, to go by the title of the book. When Algernon Keats, or “Algie”, a relative of the great English Romantic John Keats, shows up and stays in her wardrobe, I was keen to see their relationship unfold, to whatever form or shape that would take.

I found that, instead, Algie’s portrayal didn’t develop into the fully-fledged character I was expecting; I kept hoping to get to know him and his intentions behind his ghostly existence as I preferred to follow him rather than the schoolboy Dave, Rebecca’s romantic love interest, or that slimy, sickening not-so-young artist Alex, a philanderer who thinks with his pants and acts on his predatory instincts.

I do believe Algie is Rebecca’s safe haven, the port she can turn to when waters get rough: when she gets left behind by her love interest Dave who moves on to the next girl as soon as she moves away, or after Alex stalks and ravishes her, only to leave her behind like a discarded plaything, it is Algie who is there waiting for her, waiting to save her with poetry. Algernon Keats is the hero, which it is why it is a bit frustrating that this great guy doesn’t get more space on the pages. As a result, some important questions remain open and so his character remains one dimensional and obscure. ‘Is it possible to love a ghost?’ the question the blurb poses is never answered.

And this brings me back to the book cover. The word ghost is not the main character but a prop when he could have been so much more. But one thing is for sure: Algie is the muse that helps Rebecca find her voice through poetry, the reading and writing of it. This notion is further underpinned by the poetic signposts of the old greats and the word ghost weave through the story. This is only one reason why Algernon’s disappearance – as though a figment of Rebecca’s imagination – not only puzzled but disappointed.

But enough about me and my picture book mentality. Overall, I enjoyed reading The Word Ghost, last but not least, because the story explores the different forms of love: romantic love, lust, the love of words, and finding a language that explores and expresses self-love. The reader will find the story is told in a poetic and witty language that is entertaining and, at times, thought-provoking. 

Written by SCWC

Posted on July 06, 2016