A Reunion of Ghosts

Judith Claire Mitchell

A Reunion of Ghosts
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A Reunion of Ghosts

Judith Claire Mitchell

Meet the Alter sisters: Lady, Vee and Delph. These three mordantly witty, complex women share their family’s apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. They love each other fiercely, but being an Alter isn’t easy. Bad luck is in their genes, passed down through the generations. Yet no matter what life throws at these siblings, they always have a wisecrack - and each other.

In the waning days of 1999, the sisters decide it’s time to close the circle of the Alter curse. But first, as the world counts down to the dawn of a new millennium, Lady, Vee and Delph must write the final chapter of a saga generations in the making - one that is inexorably intertwined with that of the twentieth century itself.

Unspooling threads of history, personal memory and family lore, they weave a mesmerising account of their lives that stretches back decades to their great-grandfather, a brilliant scientist whose professional triumph became the sinister legacy that defines them.

Magnificent and heartbreaking, A Reunion of Ghosts is an epic novel about three unforgettable women, bound to each other and their remarkable family through the blessings and the burdens bestowed by blood.

Review

Sisters Vee, Lady and Delph Alter believe their family are as cursed as the Kennedys. They have decided to end it all on 31 December 1999. In order to explain their actions they are writing a lengthy suicide letter outlining their ancestry, beginning with their great‑grandfather in Prussia in the 1860s through to the present day. Their family history is a chequered one full of unrequited love, prejudice, scientific invention and regret, resulting in a tale that is witty and quirky but equally sad and moving.

It’s hard to believe this is only Mitchell’s second novel; it is immediately engaging, never boring and full of fascinating characters. I found the family tree at the beginning of the book an essential tool to keep track of everyone as the narrative moves frequently between the past and the present. The author is adept with language and a number of passages of the book highlight her clever use of wordplay. Some heavy topics are dealt with as the story progresses but Mitchell masterfully keeps a firm grasp on the tone throughout, guiding the reader through moments of necessary lighter relief – ‘You’re 26, it’s too soon to give up on soup’ – while always respecting the gravity of the book’s more tragic revelations.

Original and accomplished in its own right, I am hesitant to make comparisons to other works of fiction but on a couple of occasions I was reminded of some of the earlier works of John Irving and of his ability to combine humour and tragedy while telling a complex family story.

If the film rights for this book haven’t been purchased yet, I feel certain they very soon will be. I have already started dream-casting the roles in my head.


Amanda Rayner works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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