I’ve grown to really enjoy Seanan McGuire; her novel concepts are stellar, though her execution sometimes falls a bit short (as in the case of Every Heart a Doorway). I was excited to pick up her latest novella, a speculative take on ghosts and the concept of the Afterlife. Anyone who knows me will agree that ghosts are totally my jam.
Protagonist Jenny, bit of a Mary Sue but nonetheless lovable, has an unhealthy obsession with her sister Patty. When it is discovered that Patty has died by her own hand, Jenny feels somehow responsible, and in her grief runs out of the house into a raging storm, killing herself in the process. Forty years later, Jenny is “living” in New York as a ghost. Having become fully aware that every soul is granted a specific time on earth, Jenny must continue to exist on this plane until she reaches the end of her allotted time. In McGuire’s world, ghosts are able to take time from the living, moving themselves closer to their deathday while making the living younger in return. Jenny could easily take several years from the closest passer-by, some ghosts do, but guilt-ridden she earns the time she takes by volunteering at a suicide hotline, working out her issues with her sister’s death and hoping to earn her way into Heaven.
“I found my first support group not a month later. I started helping people. I started earning the time I take, justifying it with my actions before I pull it into myself. I’m aging slowly, so slowly, but I like to think that when I finally catch up to my time – whatever age that is – and move on to wherever Patty is waiting for me, she’ll be proud. She’ll see I did the best I could.”
Though I had certain difficulties with suspension of belief at times, this was a thoroughly enjoyable novel. I really liked Jenny as a character, I found myself caring about her immensely. I enjoyed the world McGuire has built, though this being a novella we never quite got to the end of the world-building. It was pieced together throughout, but it could have been slightly more delicately inserted. Adding an important bit of world-building information during a rather intense fight scene is not exactly the way to go! Nevertheless, the only thing that would have rounded this novella up better would have been a slightly more satisfactory conclusion; a little bit longer of a goodbye and a overall moral to the story. I like it when stories, especially a novella, have a point to put across, but the only one I could really see here was about Jenny resolving her guilt over her sister’s death and earning her way to a reunion. But since her guilt over her sister’s death made absolutely no sense in the first place, the whole “point” of the novel (if that truly was the point), felt a little moot.
That said, it’s a nice length, good short read and I found myself thoroughly invested in the story. Would recommend for some enjoyable afternoon reading, especially if you’re a fan of original supernatural concepts.