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Looking for love: Ghosts, by Dolly Alderton

24 October 2020

9:00 AM

24 October 2020

9:00 AM

Ghosts Dolly Alderton

Penguin/Fig Tree, pp.320, 14.99

Of all the successful modern female writers documenting their search for love, none has been as endearing as Dolly Alderton. Candace Bushnell’s alter ego Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City was too brash, perma-groomed and designer-clad. Liz Jones is vulnerable and self-effacingly funny, but her low self esteem and anorexia ring my ‘needs therapy’ alarm, and she too seems bizarrely materialistic.

Alderton, though, is the kind of woman every woman wants as a friend. Not only was her first book, the memoir Everything I Know About Love, unfiltered in its honesty about heartache, it was also a warm paean to friendship, with its eternal goldmine of emotional intelligence, conversations about everything, unconditional love and astute advice on tap.

Her second book is a novel, but is no less stuffed full of insights and adroit observations. Thirtysomething food writer Nina is fulfilled by work and friends but looking for love too. Her father is in the throes of dementia: the effects of his cognitive decline are devastatingly depicted. Some of the most poignant parts of the novel involve their enduring warm relationship. Conversely, Nina’s mother’s days are a confected whirlwind of bland social activities with her shallow best female friend. The degree to which these two are on an entirely different wavelength to Nina provides some delicious comedy.

Nina’s two closest female friends couldn’t be more different. Katherine has been converted to the ranks of smug mummies, and Nina feels judged and found lacking; but the ever-single, ever-dating Lola is forever searching for that elusive One. Their friendship is beautifully observed, from the raucous laughter of the ‘schadenfreude shelf’, where they cheer themselves up with stories of strangers’ bad luck in love, to licking each other’s wounds when emotionally damaged.

That Nina has been single since she parted from a jovial if unfunny chap called Joe is not helped by the fact that Joe is blissfully settled with Nina’s anodyne replacement — ain’t it always the way? So Nina decides to give internet dating another chance. And to know more you must read this masterpiece of modern manners.

Alderton’s life-enriching social anthropology will be the antidote for flagging spirits in the next lockdown. And if women were men, there would be a line of ardent suitors at her door.

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