The sky was pitch, and gashed by lightning; loutish waves rose and slumped heavily as mudslides. At a moment when she was filled with desperation, Maddy opened her mouth and yelled for Feather. And half-expected him to appear, because she wanted him so much.
Maddy yearns for life to be mystifying, to be as magical as a fairy story. And then one day, on the beach, she meets the strangest young man she has ever seen.
The Ghost’s Child is an enchanting fable about the worth of life, and the power of love.
(This review was originally the second part of a book talk presented in my Libr 521 class).
For a novel its length, A Ghost’s Child is surprisingly heavy where the themes are concerned. The book deals with self-discovery in a multitude of ways. Before the story of Maddy and Feather even begins, Maddy sets off on a journey of self-discovery with her father. Maddy and her father travel around the world together, seeing wondrous things, places and people. Maddy discovers facets of herself in everything she sees.
Another moment for self-discovery is when Maddy realizes she has a question to ask Feather so sets off on a sea journey helming her own boat to find Feather and ask him that question. When she finally finds him on his island and asks the question she wanted to ask, she makes another realization about her own self: she is not prepared to be stagnant in a world that is always moving. Her ability to pick up the pieces of her life and live without Feather shows her discovery that she is more than a broken heart and that she can still live no matter how much she has been hurt.
Another theme in this book is loss. Not loss caused by death but loss cause by intentionally letting go of a person, a dream or an idea and finding the strength to continue life without these things. Maddy loses her adventurous fun-loving father to the rigors of daily life when they return from their journey around the world. She chooses to let go of Feather twice because she has realized that she cannot accept his philosophies and adopt them for her own. She has to let go of her house in the woods and the dreams with which she built it.
Death is another prevalent theme. Maddy loses her parents and her grief is present throughout the narrative but it is an accepting pain unlike the loss of her baby due to miscarriage which causes Maddy a whole different kind of anguish. However, as much as death is a theme, so is life and living. The book is , if you’ll pardon the floweriness, a celebration of life and living. Maddy makes a choice when she leaves Feather on his never-changing island. She chooses to live and she does so, wholly and fully. She lives to the old age at which we find her and relates the story of her life, the good, the bad and the painful. And that is what makes the book beautiful.
If I had to attach a literary term for the style the book is written in, I’d say the author makes use of magical realism. Wikipedia defines the term as an aesthetic style or genre of fiction in which magical elements blend with the real world. Maddy has a nargun for a friend (consult handout for information about it) whom she consults on everything from her parents to her love life. Maddy also goes on a crazy journey on a boat and converses with sea animals and birds. She is also part of the audience watching an organized fight between a kraken and a leviathan. She talks to a wind called Zephyrus who helps her get to Feather’s island. Most magical of all, perhaps, is the young boy who sits in Maddy’s very ordinary living room and listens to her story.
The prose itself is incredibly detailed but deceptively simple in its diction. There is careful attention given to colours and the way things are described so they become easier to visualize. This novel is definitely a cross-over novel that will appeal to both adults and children. However, I do believe that this one book that librarians will need to recommend to get kids to pick up. I can see it being very popular if its read out to kids because as I said, the writing is simple but exquisite and the plot is also full of adventure. However the fact remains that the protagonist at the time we meet her is an old woman. There is an instance in the novel when the boy tells Maddy, as though he is delivering very bad news, “your house smells like old people.” Most kids like reading books with protagonists they can relate to.
There is a duality to this novel that I appreciated. An adult reading the novel will have a different take on it than a child. For example, the author never explicitly states that Maddy miscarries or the baby dies. The baby is always called the fay. And it’s abstract enough in the way it is mentioned that a child would probably not realize the fay is a baby but an adult would.
The book feels Australian in its regard for the sea. We are somehow always in or around the sea whether at a beach or on a boat or on an island. There is also the mention of tea and biscuits which is what we call cookies on that side of the world.
In conclusion, the book is beautiful. It’s eerie, poignant and lingering. Please read it.