I have no memory of why I decided to read this book. Maybe it was the cover (which I can’t decide if I love or hate)? Or maybe it was that the synopsis vaguely reminded me of David Mitchell’s Slade House, which, while not my typical genre, was an unexpected favorite a year or so ago. The Ghost Notebooks isn’t the kind of book I gravitate towards, but I was intrigued enough to give it a shot, and I’ve found a lot of new favorites that way. This, unfortunately, isn’t one of them.
(All reviews are spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.)
(From Goodreads) A supernatural story of love, ghosts, and madness as a young couple, newly engaged, become live-in caretakers of a historic museum.
When Nick Beron and Hannah Rampe decide to move to the tiny upstate town of Hibernia, New York, they aren’t running away, exactly, but they need a change. Their careers have flatlined, the city is exhausting, and they’ve reached a relationship stalemate. Hannah takes a job as live-in director of the Wright Historic House, a museum dedicated to an obscure nineteenth century philosopher, and she and Nick move into their new home—the town’s remoteness, the speed with which she is offered the job, and the lack of museum visitors barely a blip in their considerations. At first life in this old, creaky house feels cozy—they speak in Masterpiece Theater accents, they take bottles of wine to the swimming hole. But as summer turns to fall Hannah begins to have trouble sleeping and she hears whispers in the night. One morning Nick wakes up to find Hannah gone. Now, in his frantic search for her he will discover the hidden legacy of Wright House: a man driven wild with grief, and a spirit aching for home.
Let me start this review by saying I did not care for Ben Dolnick’s writing style, and that definitely brought the whole book down for me. Not that it’s inherently bad, it just isn’t the kind of writing that I enjoy, and I couldn’t stop focusing on the writing more than the story. One of my biggest pet peeves as a reader is when the writing itself is distracting. I think writing should highlight, not overshadow the story. Perhaps this is yet another case of having an MA in English ruining me as a reader (it’s a problem), but I couldn’t get past it. I will say that I appreciated what Dolnick was trying to do – not sure whether or not he pulled it off – and I do think there are readers out there who would enjoy it. I’m just not one of them.
The story itself was a bit of a letdown in that I, personally, was looking for something a bit spookier. I wanted a ghost story. And while I liked that this is more of an exploration of relationships, I wish I had a better idea of what this book actually was before I started reading, because I think I would have liked it more. I had a lot of trouble investing in the story and the characters. I didn’t care what happened to them, so the book lost whatever excitement it may have had.
Honestly, I think this was simply the wrong book for me. I don’t think it is a bad book, but I did not enjoy reading it, and sometimes that happens. I am pretty sensitive to writing styles, and Dolnick’s is just not my cup of tea. However, I like that it was different, and I think his style is distinct – I’d be willing to bet that if you enjoy this, you will like most of his work.
★★☆☆☆ – Unfortunately, The Ghost Notebooks wasn’t a favorite (it’s actually my first two-star read of the year). It fell a bit flat for me, and I just didn’t enjoy reading it. I am curious to see what other people think of this book, so if you have read it, are planning on reading it, or have read any of Dolnick’s other books, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
The Ghost Notebooks will be available for purchase February 13. (If you’re interested, you can preorder it on Amazon now.)
To get the audiobook for free, use this link to sign up for a free trial of Audible and choose The Ghost Notebooks as one of your two free books.
This book was provided to me by NetGalley and the publisher. All opinions are my own.
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