A Reunion of Ghosts, by Judith Claire Mitchell

As the new century dawns, the Alter sisters – Lady, Vee and Delph – make a plan to really see out the New Year. They are the last in a long line of Alters who have killed themselves, beginning with their great-grandmother, the wife of a scientist who developed the poison gas used in World War One. With six suicides in three generations, the sisters decide to take fate into their own hands on New Year’s Eve. Together they delve into their shared history and write a single suicide note.

A Reunion of Ghosts is their suicide note. The story, written by Judith Claire Mitchell, was inspired by the life and legacy of Nobel prize-winning physicist Fritz Haber, ‘the father of chemical warfare’, who developed and weaponised chlorine and other poisonous gases during WW1. This offers the reader a profound commentary on the events of the 20th century.

Despite the interesting tidbits, the macabre tale fails to spark until the latter half of the book. No sooner have you been introduced to the main characters than the story switches to the Alter sister’s ancestors. The shift in time happened a little too quickly and left me floundering. I was never quite sure if I was reading the past, present or future of the Alters.

However, with some perseverance the dark comedy switches back to the wickedly funny Alter sisters and their final days. It is here that the story becomes a beautiful novel about the blessings and burdens bestowed by blood.

While it could have become a depressing read, Mitchell injects pearls of hilarity throughout the story. It is dark, funny, and deeply touching. The sisters’ voice could have become self-pitying, but Mitchell keeps it bright and real.

This complex book is a difficult, but poignant, read. While I wasn’t sure I would be able to finish it, I’m glad to have kept at it. A Reunion of Ghosts is an utterly unique and interesting read that is well worth the effort.

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TITLE: A Reunion of Ghosts
AUTHOR(S): Judith Claire Mitchell
PUBLISHER: HarperCollins
RRP: $33.99
ISBN: 9780007594351

Rebekah is an Otago-based mother of two young girls. The former journalist and primary school teacher has a soft spot for New Zealand authors and young adult fiction. Follow her on Twitter.

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