Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit was not one of those books that grabs you by the lapels and holds on, feverishly spilling its story as quickly as you can read it. It was a good story, a mildly hypnotic one, but not one I’d necessarily call compelling. It was quietly well-crafted, one in which you can lose yourself for 50 pages, easily, but then not think about until it’s time to pick it up again later. In fact, it neither forced me to put it down, nor compelled me to cheat a little by picking it up earlier than I’d intended. Still, a solid story, filled with quiet, vaguely supernatural elements (the titular ghost, for one) and superb characterizations, which for me was the uncontested strength at the heart of Ghost.
Ghost is a coming-of-age story – not for the angsty tween or teenaged boy, but the leaving-college-to-become-a-man sort, set in the 1950s, at a “bracing” coastal resort in countryside England, a resort that knows it is dying a slow death (think Dirty Dancing), filled with a plucky and lovably humorous cast of characters such an Italian tenor, a magician, a dirty strongman who beats his sex addict wife (guess who our guy falls for – go ahead), a lazybum roommate named Nobby, and so on and so forth. David, our protag, has come to the resort for a summer job as means to be closer to the place where his father died a mysterious death when he was only three-years-old. It’s both just as charming and a bit plodding as it all sounds – especially if the carnie scene isn’t exactly your thing.
But there was just enough in the building of these tiny little scenes between characters that I found myself staying for the next 50 pages, and the 50 after that, and the 50 after that… Joyce, a renowned British fantasist, is one of Stephen King’s favorite writers, and you can see how Joyce’s writing style and quasi-noir feel influenced King’s own Joyland – I was astounded as how closely the latter felt like Ghost. Both employ writing about interesting people in unremarkable every day situations, with tinges of supernatural elements and astoundingly clever (yet everyday-ish) turns of phrases to pin you to the page.
My overall experience was solid enough to recommend the book to others – something I wasn’t sure would be happening when I set out. It’s well-worth a couple hours of your time. I picked it up because it was on the Tournament of Books longlist – and because Joyce is so highly recommended by my favorite author – and while the story might not hold up well enough to take home ToB honors, it’s not a bad way to spend an afternoon. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.