Ghostwritten by Ronald Malfi
Titan, pb, £8.99
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Set in the same universe, Ghostwritten is a collection of four novellas about haunted books and stories from the same author, Ronald Malfi.
In The Skin of Her Teeth, a haunted story resists adaptation into a screenplay with murderous consequences. In The Dark Brothers’ Last Ride, two men must take a special book on a bizarre journey to places they’ve never heard of before while the book writes itself on the younger brother’s skin. In This Book Belongs to Olo, Olo is a ten-year-old boy who creates a pop-up maze book of his own house with special properties that he turns on bullies. The Story takes the premise of a create-your-own-story and turns it into an escapable nightmare.
Each of these stories has a different style, demonstrating the extent of Malfi’s ability. The Dark Brothers’ Last Ride is filled with dust and sweat from a long journey across a desert, while The Skin of Her Teeth is slick and cool in New York’s publishing world. This is reflected in the character’s language, as This Book Belongs to Olo revolves around the social circles of children who will use different words and language than the Dark brothers, who live on the edge of society, drink-driving and using drugs.
The stories are linked subtly, using side characters rather than main ones. For example, a character called George Poach appears in The Skin of Her Teeth as an anecdote of an unhinged scriptwriter and in This Book Belongs to Olo as Olo’s mother’s ex-partner. I appreciated the links because of this rather than the same reoccurring main character.
I felt the stories also poked fun at the publishing industry. Fish is an author who wrote one amazing book years ago and is still living off its prestige as his more recent works have limited sales. Olo’s mother has written tens of books about the same female detective, and in This Book Belongs to Olo we can see how ridiculous the detective’s exploits are, so she is now akin to Wonder Woman but still achieving record sales. Olo’s stepfather shows us the other end of the writing scale as he is a wannabe who thinks he’s too talented to be understood by agents when he doesn’t have the dedication to work at his craft. The dry humour was an excellent lift in the otherwise dark and disturbing world.
My favourite in the collection was The Story. Grady’s ex-sort-of girlfriend, Taryn, kills herself, and he is drawn into the investigation when he’s asked to identify her body. Grady discovers Taryn was obsessed with ‘the story’, a choose-your-own-adventure book played online that warps the real world to match the player’s choices. Grady’s exploration comes at a cost, and he is drawn into ‘the story’ as a new player. It is a dark story filled with grief and regret for all the things we don’t say when we have the chance.
I devoured Ghostwritten; each story felt different from the others and showcased areas of the publishing world from freelancing to bloated success, screenwriting to editing. This is a varied horror collection with new takes on tropes such as hauntings and parallel worlds. Highly recommended.