Spook, But No Substance: Getting into ‘The Ghost Notebooks’


When Belletrist first brought The Ghost Notebooks to my attention, I was enthralled. Having grown up going to the Catskills, where the book takes place, and being an avid fan of ghost stories, a book about a couple that takes over an historic house in the Catskills that becomes haunted sounded too good to be true. I purchased it instantly, further swayed by the appealing neon cover, which I somehow managed to destroy by spilling an entire jug of lemonade all over it, despite the fact that it was April and still snowing when I first picked it up [bear with me, I go through reviewing ruts].

Nick and Hannah, newly married and deep into a relationship rut, decide to pick up and move out of the city, convinced it’s the root cause of their problems, in exchange for a bucolic country life. Hannah jumps at the opportunity to begin managing events and programming for the local museum, and Nick, a once-successful-ish musician, feels fine heading up there to help out and get back into the proverbial musical game. As the title might suggest, once they arrive, things begin to go a bit awry. The story unfolds in the good-old-fashion ghost story way: couple arrives, fresh-faced and ready to begin a new life, couple begins to hear whispers about ‘the last person’ who held Hannah’s position, couple laughs them off…until one half of the couple [Hannah] begins having intense nightmares and bouts of sleepwalking. Chaos ensues, and you can likely guess the rest.

As books less than 300 pages are now the exception and not the rule, I must admit to being put off by how abruptly everything in the story seemed to occur. I had to remind myself quite a few times, fresh off a 480-page Wolitzer read, that the reason the story seemed to progress at an alarming clip was its abbreviated length. There’s only so much substance you can inject into a ghost story, and while The Ghost Notebooks deals—not entirely delicately—with the subject of mental health, the focus is most certainly the plot and not the themes. It’s a good read if you’re looking for spook without substance.

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