Something that immediately caught my eye while reading is that Gillian Polack’s novel The Time of the Ghosts consists of three different narratives: the main story, Kat’s blog and the ‘Tales of Melusine’. All three narratives have their own content, structure and narrative situation and they take turns throughout the novel. While the narratives differ in these aspects, they ultimately combine into one narrative.
The First Narrative
The first narrative, the main narrative of the novel, follows the story of the three old women Lil, Ann and Mabel who take in the rebellious young girl Kat, who was homeless. Kat forms relationships with her “grandmothers” and together they explore the world of ghosts, spirits and monsters. This narrative has a third person narrator but what is important to note is that most of it is told from Kat’s perspective, which makes her the main focaliser. The novel uses several spaces and a black line, to indicate that a certain scene is over. The following part of the text then is a time skip, a change in location, one of the ‘Tales of Melusine’ or one of Kat’s blog posts.
The Second Narrative
The second narrative is Kat’s blog. It is asynchronous, as she is writing her blog rather irregularly throughout the novel and the entries are not closely tied to the surrounding narrative. Mostly the topics of her blog include research she has done on monster and ghost sightings, reviews of the ‘Tales of Melusine’ she has read so far or a journal of events involving her grandmothers. Kat calls her infrequent posts “snippets of lives” (p. 162) and compares them to the ‘Tales of Melusine’ (cf. p. 162). Sometimes she writes about her past, her family and her nightmares. In this narrative Kat is a first-person narrator. That, and the fact that she is writing about her own experiences, gives the reader a much closer look into Kat’s character compared to other characters in the novel. For this reason, I found it easy to connect with her character more deeply. Another important thing to note is that her blog posts are unlabeled. They do not have a title and, as mentioned above, are mostly identifiable through breaks in the text and a switched narrator. Therefore, at first glance they may look like a continuation of the main narrative but these posts have their own voice. As Kat is a fifteen-year-old girl and she is also writing a blog rather than a literary mode, her language is more colloquial and she is often voicing her opinion on whatever she is writing about.
The Third Narrative
The third narrative consists of the ‘Tales of Melusine’. They are little snippets of the life of the fairy Melusine, later revealed to be Lil, over the last 500 years and they are written like fairy tales. I would argue that the novel wants the reader to see them as such most of the time, as some tales which appear in the novel start with “once upon a time” (p. 13). Another special feature is that the tales are, unlike Kat’s blog posts, labeled and sequenced, yet also achronological. For me this was interesting as in some tales there was no indication in which century they took place, which made them seem more mystical and mysterious. What these tales also do is point at issues connected to Jewishness and Jewish-Australianness. The tales are written in third person narration and have Melusine as the focaliser. Looking at these tales in terms of narrative structure, I would say that they are an embedded narrative, a story within the story so to speak, with the main narrative as the frame narrative.
In the end, the three narratives combined make for a great novel. While the switch of narrative often felt pretty random, one still sees the connection of the narratives by the end of it. The change in perspective, writing style and narrative elevates the mysteriousness of the story and while sometimes the order or the switch of the narratives seems illogical, by the end of the novel one still got the feeling everything made sense and the mysteries were solved.