You may have read and heard plenty of ghost stories, but I see you so close, my first 5-star read of 2021, is one of a kind. As Su Kwon, one of the characters says, this one is real.
Irish-born Emma Rose Finnis died of drowning in 1915 and is now a ghost. Having haunted a mansion for over a hundred years, she has only recently figured out how to escape the mansion that she has been haunting. Now her spirit has donned the dead body of another girl, and she is anxious to get away, to stay one step ahead of the ghost hunters, namely, her arch enemy, Philip Pratt.
She finds herself in the secluded town of White Bar, welcomed by the kind townsfolk, especially Mayor Martha Hayley, John and Mary Berringer, Ruth Huellet etc. All the residents recognise the vulnerability in her, and invite her to stay on and build a life for herself in their town, emphasising repeatedly that White Bar is a place of peace and rest, a magical place of joy.
At first she intends to stay just for one night, and leave the next morning, but the sight of two hands in flowered sleeves in the oven in Martha’s kitchen haunts her with its cry for help, and she decides to stay on.
She comes to know of a fire in an old, locked schoolhouse, and becomes consumed by the idea of unravelling the mystery and setting the pain free. There she comes to know of gold-seeker turned schoolmaster Landon Albert Longhurst whose fists are stronger.
And all along she faces a corporeal danger, in the shape of ghost hunter, Pratt, intent on blasting her to nothing.
The book is written in the first person present tense point of view of Emma and is divided into two parts, The Ghost and The Door.
The hardsell for White Bar made me uncomfortable from the very beginning, leading me to wonder what secrets this perfect place concealed.
I liked Emma. She is an old soul, literally and figuratively. There’s a message of kindness to counter pain through the short fuse of her temper. Pain that must be dealt with in order to strive for reparation and justice.
Emma tells us, Haunting is listening and Haunting is waiting and the world needs more of that to counter the many wrongs that continue to remain unaddressed centuries later.
At first, Emma is a real ghost of a character. The author is careful not to smother us with her back story, letting us get to know her in the present, letting out only an occasional nugget about the past.
I wasn’t familiar with the setting, but the descriptions and the sense of setting emerged beautifully. The description of the small frontier town in the High Sierras is evocative. I enjoyed reading about its gold panning history.
The language is gorgeous, poetic and beautiful.
There’s no simple map to a stranger’s soul. No arrow that will point out one heart’s way to another.
There are philosophical undertones to this book that remind us of what people, like souls, need. Not just rest, but as Emma tells us, Adventure… Love. Whatever you were denied in life. Justice. Freedom.
Every piece of earth is a grave… One way or another.
Death is Near. Always.
There’s nothing easier, or more useful, than giving a soul what it wants.
They are all lessons of living from a soul who’s been dead for far longer than she’s been alive.
Another character tells us, If you can’t get rid of the knives, then it’s who you hand them to that matters.
Another character says, The devil hands a broken heart the hammer that smashed it, then tells it to smash the next heart closest.
Some proofing errors mar the overall effect, but only slightly. As when Su Kwon says, “We really do watch for each another.”
Ultimately this ghost story with a heart was one beautiful and lush read with a befitting ending and then an Epilogue that was just perfect.