Somewhere between Martin Millar and Neil Gaiman, there's the gently whimsical world of Jonathan Carroll.
And he's in full-force in "The Ghost in Love," a deeply unconventional little love story that floats along in a mellow, quirky haze. As if Carroll's warm, whimsical style weren't enough, the story is populated with angels, vagrants, ghosts, talking dogs reborn from past girlfriends, and a man haunted by a celestial computer bug. Yes, it's at least half as odd as it sounds.
After adopting the rather fatalistic dog Pilot from a shelter, Benjamin falls, cracks his head, and dies.
Or rather, that is what SHOULD have happened. His ghost is informed by the Angel of Death that due to a bizarre error, he hasn't died -- and until further notice, the ghost is to hang around and observe. But Benjamin's failure to die is having a bizarre ripple effect on the world -- the Angel is wounded, and time seems to warp around Ben.
The strange events of his death (and subsequent life) become clearer when Pilot (whose past life connects him to Ben) tells his owner everything. Past selves and mysterious verzes all appear around the three humans and the talking dog -- which is made even more complicated by the fact that Ben's ghost Ling has fallen in love with the vibrant German.
"The Ghost in Love" is one of those stories that is really hard to classify -- it happily straddles fences between magical realism, pure fantasy, love stories and ghost story. And Jonathan Carroll has a knack for coming up with unique plots, such as: what if a man who didn't actually die was being haunted by his own ghost? Ah, such strangeness.
The main flaw with Carroll's story is that it's saturated with past selves and memories, so the point where it gets kind of confusing. Fortunately the world he spins up is wonderfully whimsical -- it's full of ghosts, angels, maddened vagrants, city streets, verzes, and meditations on what it is to have free will and be truly alive. It's a place where talking dogs can see roaming illnesses roaming the streets.
And he's able to bring it to life with gentle humour and a sense of whimsy, as well as wonderfully vivid writing ("His eyes looked like dirty coins. His skin was the colour of old books that were once wet"). Yet he can also come up with some subtle creepiness, such as when German meets the aged, forgetful version of her ex-boyfriend from half a century in the future.
Unsurprisingly -- since both Ben and Ling are in love with her -- German is the big warm heart of the book. She lives for today, enjoys everything she can, and has a fun open min. Ben is a bit more laid-back and quiet (even when exploring his own childhoo), while Pilot the dog adds a mildly sardonic edge to the proceedings.
"The Ghost in Love" is a truly sweet, introspective little fantasy, full of confusing problems, bright colours and women who live for today.