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I knew I was taking a bit of a risk reading 'A Ghost at the Table', as it does not fit in with the usual books I read. However, I like to extend my reading horizons at times, the blurb on the back of the book was quite intriguing and it had received a number of good reviews so there was a good deal of promise. I'm not going to say that I disliked the book, because I didn't, but it just didn't grab me in the way that lots of books do and as a consequence, I admit to finding it hard going. I hate to give up on a book though so I did stick with it but it was a bit hard work at times!
The Ghost at the Table is set in the US and is written by Suzanne Berne, who has won the Orange Prize for another of her novels. It takes place one Thanksgiving and focuses on a highly dysfunctional family as they get together to celebrate. The story is told by Cynthia who has been persuaded to spend Thanksgiving with her older sister Frances and her family in New England. She is unsure about the wisdom in attending particularly as it means coming face to face with her estranged father, now in his eighties and who has recently suffered from a stroke. Frances is not without problems of her own - displaying depressive and mistrustful behaviour. It doesn't bode well for a happy Thanksgiving particularly as both Frances and her husband Walter seem to have invited the world and his wife to their table!
The book is divided into four parts. The first part focuses on the few days leading up to Thanksgiving; the second visits the past and goes a fair way to explaining why the family is the way it is with the girls growing up with a sick mother and an apparently uncaring father who moves his mistress into the house virtually as soon as their mother's funeral has taken place. The third part is Thanksgiving Day and all that happens from a non defrosted turkey to the forced jollity at the dining table with a few too many glasses of wine being drunk. The final part, as you might imagine, deals with the aftermath.
The story is told by Cynthia but she comes across as quite a cold character and I didn't feel that I really learned enough about her thoughts and how she was feeling. I was actually left with this same cold detachment towards all the characters in the book. They felt almost two dimensional and I certainly did not find myself caring about any of them. I think this is the reason why the book just did not do it for me. I just couldn't engage with any of the characters and because of this I almost couldn't be bothered to find out what happened to them.
What I did sort of enjoy though was the way the author introduced a sense of foreboding throughout the novel. It was there bubbling away from the very start which I thought was quite clever but you couldn't really work out how it was going to end up until the very end! This was well crafted but did not make up for my lack of response to all the characters. If I had liked them better I would probably have started worrying about what was going to happen!
I did feel disappointed as I read the book because I felt that it should have been more enjoyable than it actually was. All the ingredients are there to make an intriguing read and maybe it was just me that didn't like it so it could be worth giving it a go. It is available from Amazon for £5.99.