Review of The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit by Graham Joyce

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      Combining the air of whimsical charm of Tim Burton’s Big Fish and the slightly offbeat, lugubrious melodrama of Donnie Darko,you end up with my best description of the type of unconventional storytelling that is at the heart of Graham Joyce’s newest novel The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit. More specifically, it is a story that is a  charming, deeply psychoanalytic tale (with a touch of dark humor). In most other novels with this kind of ghost narrative, the ghosts and apparitions   are usually their own substantial, corporeal entity in the story, while more psychological (even psychedelic) novels like The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit’s ghosts are more  of a skeptical, psychical construction, Within this one-part psychological tale of shy, socially inept, though inquisitive character David, his character decides to return to the city, where he last saw his father before his father tragically vanished from his life at the age of three years old, while visiting this English coastal city. Most of the story is set within a quirky holiday resort- a rather eccentric place with a very shady, even mystical element to it-   that resides on the English coastline , and the story involves one-part a tawdry love-story at this resort that David happens to find summer employment at after his first year of college, though a more crucial part of the  story is psychological growth and self-discovery is truly what is the most interesting feature of this novel. Graham Joyce’s The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit is a very strange novel, in the sense that though the psychological facet of the character’s coming-of-age narrative is crucial; the wacky occupants of this holiday resort with their strange political viewpoints and dealings really bring both Big Fish and Donnie Darko to mind, as any story that has a very deep subconscious element to it often contains a cast of wildly colorful, even mentally-unstable characters, who seem much more like caricatures or skewed perceptions of stable reality, from the mentally-skewed viewpoint of the titular character of the story.

Ever since James Joyce’s stories and later some of Sartre’s writing from the mid-sixties at the height of the Existential movement in both philosophy and literature, absurdist elements have become more and more commonplace in literature, as of late. From my own understanding of absurdism, you have to think of the nonsensical features of Alice in Wonderland, and transplant those, and put them within the mind-bending psyche of a teenager, undergoing the coming-of-age narrative, in a way that is both more tumultuous and alienating, than similar  crises before. Many cultures, preceding the modern era, would have rites of passages to assuage the mental anguish, confusion, and incessant brooding about one’s place and purpose in a seemingly chaotic universe. These ceremonies would help bring solace to the individual, undergoing the ceremonial ritual, allowing them to be subjected to their worst subconscious fears in a safe environment. This tradition can be traced back to the Greek ceremony of kenosis- or self-emptying- where all the emotions burgeoning in what was considered them to be “the soul,” or the “subconscious” in more modern, Freudian terms are purged, manifested in reality, and ultimately are vanquished through the individual’s acceptance of their darkest parts of themselves, all with reliance on a divine source to help with this form of inspiring, redemptive passage into adulthood.

Grandma Death, from the film Donnie Darko, is one my favorite post-modern abstractions of death, as created by the mind of Donnie Darko

Of course, more post-modern stories, like The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit again requires less reliance on any divine source, as post-modern stories, by default, are mostly atheistic stories, or agnostic narratives with light use of some new-age spiritualism. Other than that though, the journey of the title character remains mostly the same, albeit, their world is more of a ephemeral abstraction, based on their own relative outlook on the world around them. Take for instance the films Donnie Darko and Big Fish, the story of the main character, for example, in Big Fish is mostly told or accounted from one person’s subjective take and conscious organization and recall of the story of their lives. On the other hand,Donnie Darko is really about one character’s own hypothetical “last day,” spent revisiting all the absurd, eccentric features of their everyday life, which seem largely more farcical and meaningless, as Donnie Darko observes the world around him, from the discomfitting, mentally instable view of a character with schizophrenic tendencies, for one last time, and the reflections of his life seems to hold no truly plausible notion of true meaning or destiny.

Graham Joyce’s story, as such, combines the eccentricities of both Big Fish and Donnie Darko, and elements of the traditional English ghost story, in a way that is uniquely a post-modern, twentieth-first century novel that really questions the increased understanding that notions like fate,destiny are clearly just as absurd, as the people and their life circumstances around you. Accepting this may require succombing to self-defeat, and eventually death of some kind (as in Donnie Darko), or the character faces the choice of really accepting the absurdity and humor intrinsic to life, thus allowing the main character’s existential crisis, to be one way or another, resolved in some semi-incomplete fashion.

Without divulging details concerning just how this wonderful, psychological tale ends, you will have to figure that out yourself, if you decide that you have the mental gumption to test the unorthodox currents of the waters of this highly creative, though very insane post-modern tale. If you want something that is more conventional, this is not the book for you, as it takes after Big Fish and Donnie Darko, in their subtlely sublime meditation on the meaning of life, as witnessed through the viewpoint of one mentally-agitated main character, coming to grips, once and for all with the darkest aspects of his subconscious self.

Sometimes, this story deviated in less than promising ways from the more engrossing plot, surrounding the psychological thread of David’s own journey of self-discovery and emotional healing. Some of these subplots were never dealt with in any satisfactory way, making them seem less than just absurdist features of a nonsensical story, but insubstantial fluff that contributes nothing to the story. Some of it may, though, have really compounded the main character’s own core conflict, during the story, but it seems to revert back to the shadows of the story, surrounding the true gripping center of this story, which perfectly mirrors the intrigue and puzzling nature of such rich, cinematic tales, seen in both Big Fish and Donnie Darko. So, if you loved the mind-bending, cerebral nature of those movies, with its dependence on exemplar forms of subtle story-telling, Graham Joyce’s The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit, aside from a few flaws, is still an insanely interesting, perplexing novel that will have you pondering an array of different philosophical issues, which are integral to this story’s fascinatingly rich construction.

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