This eloquent review of Let the Ghosts Speak floored me. I am grateful that readers are enjoying this book at such a deep, meaningful level.
When I first heard about Let the Ghosts Speak, long before it was published, I expected to enjoy it. Having read many of Bryan Davis’s books, I know he’s a reliable (and skillful) author. I ordered it with the certainty that it would be, at the very least, a short excursion into the world of literary pleasure.
I was shocked. Several times. Until I finished it, I couldn’t decide whether I loved or hated it. At various points, fury, disbelief, questions, and, yes, even delight consumed me.
Upon reading the first page, I found myself a bit apprehensive. Too reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe for my taste. Would the characters be unlikable stock figures, the plot a ridiculous fantasy not meant to be taken to heart, and the narrator completely out of his mind? I didn’t want to read a novel devoid of the potential for sympathy and connection. I feared that the promising premise behind the story would weave nothing but dissatisfaction and emptiness.
That does not describe this novel at all. Let the Ghosts Speak is passionate, heart-rending, and, as others have said, thought-provoking. The themes do not overpower the characters or the plot, nor is all meaning lost for the sake of mindless entertainment. Too many modern books sell themselves short, proving to be cheap, gaudy, and shallow. Not this one.
First of all, the narration is excellent, both suiting the era of the setting and providing insight into the protagonist. Most importantly, Bryan Davis maintains the storytelling flawlessly throughout the 200 pages. When, near the end of the book, a key character becomes the temporary narrator, Davis executes this switch without confusion. Both points of view are developed wholly and separately; the reader hears a different person telling the story.
Also, I must commend the vocabulary. Many modern books limit themselves to a fraction of English words, reflecting naught but a mere shadow of the beauty of language. Not this book. Though not overdone or at all stilted, the vocabulary contains words rich with meaning. It doesn’t sound like the author went out of his way to throw in a bunch of fancy words, either: the elegant prose flows perfectly with the narrator, characters, and era.
The plot is equally beautiful, though profoundly frustrating at times. Earlier, I said I wasn’t sure if I loved or hated this novel. In fact, the progression from chapter to chapter forced me to re-evaluate my stance myriad times. I don’t want to say too much, but it’s the kind of plot that makes your fists clenched, your breathing shallow, your eyes wide, and your heartbeat rapid. It isn’t a gory thriller, nor is it anything close to a typical murder mystery. But it is intense.
The reason for this intensity lies in the characters, especially Justin. In my opinion as a reader, characterization makes or breaks a novel. If a book has an intricate, mysterious, or even potentially intriguing plot, but shallow, undeveloped, or obnoxious characters, I find it difficult to read (for example, Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms). Without feeling connected in some way to the characters, even a good plot idea falls flat.
Justin, Marc, Inspector Fortier, Jean…these characters are complex, intriguing, just like every single other character in Let the Ghosts Speak. I, as a reader, felt inextricably attached to their decisions, their motives, and their actions. Whether they broke my heart or warmed my soul (two things all of them did repeatedly), I found them realistic, dimensional, and moving. I felt their hurt, experienced their uncertainty. Like the wonderful books of old, such as The Lord of the Rings, this novel, through its characters, elevated my heart to a longing for something. I can’t quite say what.*
What more can I say? The author of the preface warns that he experienced hallucinations or visions after spending a long time translating Justin’s manuscript. I did not. However, my thoughts have been haunted by this book and these characters from the time I started reading it–and especially from the time I finished. It isn’t a novel to be read and forgotten. My thoughts turn to it moment after moment. I daydream about the themes, the characters, the possibilities. Let the Ghosts Speak, unlike typical standalone books, wound itself around my heart and soul. It won’t let go…I feel a bit lonely after finishing it.
*C.S. Lewis referenced this feeling in his essay “On Three Ways of Writing for Children.”
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