I credit a reading slump of epic proportions and its interesting title and cover art for my checking out of Roddy Doyle’s A Greyhound of a Girl last week. Had the two not converged in me as I stood before the new juvenile and YA bookshelf at the library, I’m pretty sure I’d have passed over this ghost story. Billed as a work of juvenile fiction, this is a short novel that is both sweet and weird. Or weird and sweet. Or both. The fact that I read it all the way through to the end in less than twenty-four hours is testimony to the fact that I really, really needed a palate-cleansing easy read after bogging down in another novel and just feeling ho-hum about most of my reading prospects.
A Greyhound of a Girl is a story of four generations of women: Mary, age twelve, “cheeky” Irish school girl; her mother, Scarlett; her beloved granny, Emer, sick and in the hospital; and her great-grandmother, Tansey, a ghost. Tansey appears to Mary as she comes home from school one afternoon and strikes up a conversation, and through a few of these repeated encounters, Mary concludes that Tansey must be the ghost of her great-grandmother. Tansey died when Emer was only three years old, but she has been unable to “rest” because her work as a mother was left unfinished. What follows is something of an adventure involving springing Emer from the confines of the hospital for a while and traveling back to the old homeplace. The story is told from multiple perspectives, which is something I don’t always like. It works pretty well for this story, though. If the whole thing sounds odd, it is, and it isn’t. This is absolutely an unfrightening ghost story. There is no blood or gore or any fright factor at all. There isn’t even a whole lot of suspense. What it is, though, is a testimony to a mother’s love. It is a gentle story that has a lot of the little touches that bump a story up above the common lot, including two of my favorite things: subtle foreshadowing and well-developed characterization. It also provides quite a taste of Ireland, which is another bonus for me since I love reading books set in unfamiliar locales. I’m not sure it would be a hit among the JF crowd; I see it more as a story mothers will appreciate. Yes, it is weird, but it’s sweet. Another bonus for me is that it pried me out of my reading slump and helped me attack Les Miserables (again) with a right good will. (Amulet, 2012)