Six reasons why you should read A Reunion of Ghosts
A bitter-sweet black comedy about three elderly members of a prestigious New York City family.
1. To be eccentric and rich…
Wealthy, eccentric families are always compelling subjects. Reminiscent of Grey Gardens (the brilliant Maysles Brothers’ film about Jackie O’s oddball relatives living in a dilapidated mansion), A Reunion of Ghosts lets us learn, from the inside, what it must be like to be related to highly successful and yet unscrupulous people, weighed down with centuries of expectation, saddled with hereditary illness (in this case, depression leading to suicide), yet have no real responsibilities and a silly amount of money. Think Wes Anderson and Sophia Coppola.
2. A macabre, witty black comedy
It is hard to put into words how bitter-sweet this novel is, and just how peculiar and entertaining it is too, while being a touch macabre. It deals with the very serious, sombre theme of sins haunting a family for generations, while being a very funny and tender book too. Mitchell pulls off that highly skilful, and rare, feat of writing about a family whose history is steeped in the gruesome and morbid, in prose brimming with humour and wit.
3. Who isn’t intrigued by a family curse?
The three Alter sisters are not only wealthy and eccentric, they believe that they carry their family’s curse. Their great-grandfather invented Zyklon-B, the gas used in Nazi concentration camps, and subsequent generations have suffered bad luck, misfortune and numerous sticky-ends. As the sisters recount their chequered family history, they prepare to put an end to the unlucky family’s bloodline. Mitchel never trivialises the act of suicide, or the tragic events in the life of the Alter family; the protagonists are highly exceptional, doomed people whose attitude to life (and death) is both refreshing and hilarious.
4. Meet Lady, Vee and Delph
Lady, Vee and Delph are the three of the most memorable female protagonists you will come across. Wise, with a razor-sharp sense of humour, and exceptional comic timing, they are constantly putting a comic spin on their family’s unfortunate circumstances; all three elderly sisters would make brilliant company in just about any circumstance. Strong and yet not taking life too seriously, the three will appeal to fans of Rachel Joyce, Agatha Christie and Angela Carter.
5. A thoroughly believable, post-modern history
Real historical figures are cast next to fictional ones, in this sprawling family saga; the Alter family history is intertwined with the most renowned people – and events - of the Twentieth century. The sisters’ great grandfather was a German-Jewish scientist who is based on real-life Fritz Haber, while Einstein and his wife make cameo appearances, as it were. Throughout the novel, other historical figures wander in and out of the drama, often mingling so seamlessly, it is hard not to believe the Alter family really existed.
6. The first person plural
It is not often that a novel is narrated in the first person plural, and it certainly makes for an interesting read. Themes of family, identity, and memory are all wrapped up in the use of one little word: ‘we’. As each chapter is narrated using ‘we’ in place of ‘I’, it is difficult to ascertain which sister is speaking/writing; what better way to illustrate the connection between the three sisters, then to have them narrate as one.
'What if the man who invented chemical weapons was also a grandfather, and what if his great-grandchildren grew up to be three hilarious, introverted, deeply-haunted sisters? And what if those sisters co-wrote a fascinating, funny, and deeply sad 350-page suicide note? Then you'd have A REUNION OF GHOSTS.' Anthony Doerr