Sometimes you pick up a book expecting it to be one thing and it's something totally different...and that's okay. Ghosted, by Rosie Walsh, was one of these books for me.
The protagonist is Sarah, an English woman in her late 30s who has been living in Los Angeles since she was a teenager. She returns to the quaint English village where she was born as she does every summer, to commemorate the tragic events that sent her to Los Angeles (and which aren't revealed right away). By chance, she meets a meets a local man named Eddie in a pub, and they fall for each other fast. They spend an idyllic week together, which comes to an end when Sarah insists that Eddie stick to his plan to go on vacation. They friend each other on Facebook and promise to keep in touch, to keep this amazing connection going
After Eddie leaves, however, he falls silent. He doesn't return Sarah's texts, answer his phone, or respond to her Facebook messages. Her friends assume that she has just been the victim of his callousness. She admits that this is likely, but can't bring herself to believe that his feelings weren't real. Instead, she imagines the worst – that he has met with accident or foul play or illness. Her efforts to contact him, or at least to find out what happened to him, grow increasingly desperate.
Ghosted was different from my expectations in a couple of respects. I expected the couple at the center of it to be younger. I was anticipating a romantic thriller with some government or corporate conspiracy behind Eddie's disappearance, or at least a kidnapping caper. Most of all, I expected Sarah and Eddie to be together longer before the titular ghosting.
The book I ended up reading was a lot more like The Girl on the Train. A whole lot. In fact, if you like British mysteries like that one, you might like Ghosted quite a lot. As with The Girl on the Train, the main character's past turns out to be connected to the current mystery, and the truth is brought into the light. Eddie both is and is not who Sarah thought he was. However, the reveals in Ghosted are not as disturbing as the ones in Girl on the Train.
In spite of what seems like an out-of-proportion heartbreak, Sarah is a sympathetic character. In fact, her reactions to everything else are so measured and reasonable that you cut her some slack for her distress. You come to admire the grit with which she has rebuilt her life, and which she has also used to found a nonprofit. I even liked that her nonprofit sends clowns to visit ill children in the hospital, because too often clowns are used as a lazy punchline.
Part of what makes “Ghosted” work is its sense of place. The English countryside is rendered in loving, if repetitive, detail. It's refreshing to find Sarah in Los Angeles the rest of the time, because it's not the first place where American readers would imagine British expats. But most important is the digital environment, with the tech companies that connect us through our cell phones mentioned by name. Anyone who has ever waited for a text alert or hung on three dots in a speech bubble can relate to Sarah's experience.
There are a few things in the book that strain credibility. Not everyone is going to buy that Sarah and Eddie become so invested in each other after such a short time together. (Romance fans derisively call this “insta-love.”) She's more distraught over Eddie than her recently divorced husband of many years, but that actually rang true for me. Sometimes relationships are just different in that way. A lot of the story's drama could have been avoided with honest communication – but this hardly makes it unique. My biggest complaints are that some of the reveals were slightly gimmicky, and were teased for way too long, and that the reaction of some characters to long-ago events doesn't make sense.
Overall, though, Ghosted is a satisfying read. The characters keep you reading, even secondary characters like Sarah's friends. In the end, people who have suffered for a very long time find their way to a better emotional place, and there is hope for the future. Ghosted brings together elements of mystery and romance, and would be at home at the beach or beside the fire this holiday season.