In the age of internet dating, words such as ‘orbiting’ and ‘ghosting’ have fast become a part of the collective lexicon. But in Ghosted: A Love Story, Jenn Ashworth takes the experience of being ghosted to a new, and slightly disturbing, level.
Spend enough time on the dating scene and you’re likely to come across someone who disappears into the ether. However, you might not expect this to happen years after you’ve exchanged vows.
Ghosted is told from the perspective of Laurie, who, one ordinary morning, finds that her husband Mark has vanished, leaving behind his phone and wallet. For weeks she continues as normal, telling no one of Mark’s disappearance, going to work as a cleaner at the local university and visiting her father, who is suffering from dementia. She spends most of her time alone in her tower block flat, drinking and trying to rationalise what has happened. Eventually, Laurie comes clean and reports Mark’s disappearance to the police. Naturally, they are suspicious of Laurie’s actions and wonder why she took so long to come forward.
What follows is a sort of mystery novel, but one that is told in Ashworth’s darkly comic voice. While there are times when Ghosted feels like a whodunnit, there are moments when it feels like there is no one to blame. In Laurie, Ashworth has created a wholly unreliable narrator who often admits to omitting key facts, second guesses herself, and drinks an awful lot. The reader follows Laurie as she navigates a period of intense trauma. Ashworth adeptly taps into the anger that often accompanies grief, and it is made far more complicated as Laurie is attempting to figure out exactly what she is supposed to be grieving. Is it the end of a relationship? The loss of her husband? A death? Nothing is clear.
Not content with one mystery, Laurie appears to distract herself from the disappearance of her husband by following up her suspicions about the relationship between her father and his carer Olena. Laurie’s reaction is to project sinister motivations onto Olena, who seems to have a far better understanding of Laurie’s father and his needs. Here, Ashworth explores the shifting nature of relationships. We fight to control these narratives, not only the way that we see other people, but how they view us in return. In reality, we have little influence over the way that we are perceived.
Ghosted is a novel about uncertainty. While we may believe that our lives, our relationships and our family history – the things that shape our identity – are a certain way, that they’re set in stone, something can come along and cause us to question everything.
It’s an unconventional love story, but, to me, it’s also something else entirely. Ashworth’s writing is often referred to as ‘unnerving’ and I wonder if that’s because of her immense talent for honing in on our deepest fears. In Ghosted, those who once appeared solid and who we might consider to be a part of the mundane fabric of our everyday (fathers, spouses, colleagues), hide, or begin to reveal, parts of themselves that we didn’t know existed and act in a way that we had never considered them capable of. It begs the question: how well do we – and can we – really know other people?
By Emma Yates-Badley, Literary Editor
Ghosted: A Love Story is published by Sceptre and available to buy now.
You can watch Jenn Ashworth and Kylie Whitehead in conversation at Blackwell’s Manchester on October 19, 2021 at 7pm. For more information, or to book tickers, click the link.