All the ghosts in this story are real. They are the memories that haunt us. They are also ghosts of things that the children in the story have yet to experience for themselves: evil and tragedy and sorrow that can’t be let go of and which refuses to release us. It’s a boy’s coming of age story that is also the story of his discovery of the traumatic past of his likable but odd uncle and how it links to his uncle’s fractured present. It’s a story that is low on horror but high on empathy and grief and hope.
Craig Davidson is a wonderful storyteller. I slipped into his tale with ease and let it carry me along. Even as the current of his narrative took hold, I could also see that he was helping me to consider the nature of narrative itself: what it is, why we need it, how we create it alone and together and how it links to memory. The two things, story and a reflection on storytelling, fit together seamlessly, with no awkward drop into lecture mode and no jarring authorial voice-over.
How is this achieved? By having the story told by an adult looking back on and recreating the narrative of the summary of his twelfth year. That was the summer when he made his first real friends and the summer when he was part of The Saturday Night Ghost Club, set up by his uncle, a man with a child-like obsession with the strange and otherworldly. The adult narrator is a brain surgeon. His twelve-year-old self is a bright but socially awkward boy, unused to having friends and resigned to being bullied. Through the twin perspective of an adult’s professional understanding of cognition and a boy’s excitement and wonder and worry, we experience the boy’s summer and share the meaning the adult attributes to it.
I was impressed at the ability to share an unsentimental, neuroscience-based understanding of what memory is and how it works, while delivering vivid, emotionally-charged, deeply engaging coming-of-age memories. It seemed to me that, in this narrative, memory itself became a character in the book. We were shown that our memory is selective and asked to consider what it selects and why. and that being able to forget is sometimes a blessing.
As the story progresses and the child’s view and the adult’s view converge, the link between narrative our memories build and our own sense of identity becomes clear. The book shows us that the real nature of magic is the ability to see beyond the mundane and that sanity lies in being able to return to it.
I recommend the audiobook version of ‘The Saturday Night Ghost Club’. Corey Brill’s narration is excellent. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.
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