A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell
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.