I enjoyed this book, which is set in the 70s in a “family resort” in a small seaside England town. Although, I have to be honest, I had the movie “Dirty Dancing” in my head throughout, because it’s exactly that sort of setting. The book takes place in a do-it-all old-school vacation resort, where the staff run games and magic shows and talk about how all this is going away. The families come in for a few days, relax and then leave.
In his summer before college, David leaves home and sets off for a summer job in the beach-side town of Skegness. He knows only one thing about Skegness: it’s the place where his father died when David was just a young boy. David’s mother won’t tell him anything about his father, so this is about exploring his roots, not just getting away.
David settles into working entertainment at the resort pretty easily, although he’s immediately drawn to the one married woman there, who is married to an abusive brute. He also starts seeing strange appearances of a man and a young boy on the beach…
This book is more coming-of-age than fantasy. The ghost part (despite the title) is not a huge part of the story. I liked that about it. I also liked the setting and the political controversies of the time (including a meeting of the National Front). It sounds like Joyce’s other books are much more fantasy/horror than this one, which is based on his actual experiences as a young man.
I would have liked this book more except for one thing. David is one of the most passive characters I’ve ever read, and I found it maddening. He gets himself in these situations just by letting himself be pushed and pulled in every direction. He doesn’t pursue women; he’s seduced by them. He’s told by someone to get in a car and he does. Most of the book he seems to have no idea what’s going on around him, he just does what he’s told. Even the idea that he came to this town wanting to learn more about his father – it wouldn’t take much to go to the library and try to find a record of who his father is and what happened. But he doesn’t.
Although in fairness, this book is about him growing through his experiences, which he does.
I felt a little mixed about the abused wife storyline – I like that she’s portrayed as more than just a victim. David thinks he’s going to charge in and be a hero, and the reality is more complex than that. She’s not the fantasy he has in his head. On the other hand, abuse is abuse, and a husband who goes around mauling people just for talking to his wife doesn’t really get a side. Joyce muddles the issue a bit by presenting it as a he said, she said matter.
This is a book where I could have done without the magical aspects altogether, and just kept it as a growing-up and searching-for-roots kind of story. In that, it succeeds.
Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Doubleday Books and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This book will be published August 5, 2014.