I have a more difficult time pronouncing the author’s last name than encouraging people to read this book. I was first hesitant, as I was not a fan of The Time Traveler’s Wife, but once I was to 20% of the novel, I was hooked. It’s a ghost story, but not in any way like I have read before.
The story begins and ends with funerals, with the setting predominately at a home that is adjacent to a cemetery, which lends to it’s gothic tendencies. In fact, this novel has a touch of Southern Gothic, if London can be included in the south.
Elspeth has died, leaving her flat to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina, whom she has never met. They are to live in the flat for a year, never letting their parents visit, and are to be looked after by Elspeth’s ex-boyfriend, Robert, who lives in the downstairs flat. Their upstairs neighbor is Martin, a older gentleman with a severe case of OCD, whose wife has left him for Amsterdam after 25 years of marriage.
Elspeth was a twisted, demanding, and manipulative woman during her short lifetime (she died in her 40’s), and slowly, she realizes that she is trapped in the flat as a ghost, with the same temperament. She’s unable to do much of anything for several months, but by the time the twins arrive, she is starting to make her presence known, in both minute and dramatic ways (including breaking the TV). Julia and Valentina are odd characters themselves, as they are an unusual case of twins, with their inner and external appearance being mirrored, to the extent of Valentina’s heart being on the right side. It’s hard to feel anything but contempt for the 21-year-old girls who look perhaps 12-years-old and act unlike any 21-year-olds I’ve ever met.
The twin’s interaction with Robert and the ghost of Elspeth make up the bulk of the book, which is somewhat to the stories’ detriment, as Martin, the man upstairs, is far more interesting. Perhaps this is because I have never read about OCD, but I found his preoccupation with counting and cleanliness fascinating, and I would have read an entire book about Martin and his relationship with his wife, Marijke (still not sure how to pronounce her name). Their love story is touching and real, and I often felt that the chapters about the twins bumbling around the flat and London and Robert’s interaction with Elspeth took away from the heart of the story.
There are several twists to the novel, including one that made me drop my kindle and say “What?” aloud, and the discussion of ghosts and cemeteries is not creepy at all. Many people have a fascination with what happens after death, and this book gives readers a unique taste of what might happen to those who have work yet to do here on this temporary plane of existence.