What happens when three old ladies take in a 15-year-old runaway? And what happens when these three old ladies are not just your regular neighbourhood grandmas but hunt ghosts as a hobby?
These questions and many more such as ‘How does one have a relationship with a ghost?’ or even ‘How to spend your retirement?’ are answered in Gillian Polack’s novel The Time of the Ghosts.
The story revolves around three elderly (very old) ladies Ann, Mabel and Lil. When Ann meets the teenager Kat, who had run away from home, the three ladies decide to take her in. Over many years the grandmas have spent their time hunting ghosts in Canberra to send them back to where they came from. Once they take in Kat they decide to try and teach her their ways, especially now that some sort of evil spirit is threatening Canberra.
Now judging by both the title and the cover of the book The Time of the Ghosts can easily be classified as a ghost story. And obviously ghosts are very important in the story since the three grandmas spend a huge part of their time hunting them. Furthermore, the novel definitely displays the dark and mysterious undertones of a ghost story. The ghosts presented are all very different in nature and character, ranging from friendly bushrangers to evil spirits.
However, Polack’s novel has much more to offer than that. When it comes to the mythical creatures that occur in the story the different types include ghosts, werewolves, and even fairies, which actually are a huge part of the story.
As explained above, in addition to the unquestionably engaging theme of ghost hunting, The Time of The Ghosts touches on a variety of different subjects that are equally as interesting and important to the story.
Apart from the ghost hunting, the story also follows the personal struggles of the characters that tackle tough issues like divorce, an abusive household or confronting your past as well as the idea of aging. Throughout the novel, these struggles continuously test the friendship between the grandmas especially since one of them seems to be keeping a secret.
From themes like food and nature to the topic of Jewishness throughout different time periods and colonialism to such heavy topics such as abuse and even child loss, the story provides an insight into many troubles one might face in their life mixed with mythical elements, therefore making it very engaging to read. These themes are not only discussed in the main story but also in the Tales of Melusine, a many-century-old fairy, that are interjected in the outer story of the novel. These tales not only give the reader a view into different mythological creatures and stories throughout the centuries but also become relevant in the discussion of who these three, ghost-hunting old ladies really are.
The switch between a third person narrative, the Melusine Tales, which at first seem to be disconnected from the outer storyline, and a first-person narrative in the form of blog posts that Kat is writing alongside the unfolding story adds a captivating depth to it. In the tales of Melusine, the story openly plays with the question of how reliable a narrator is, by mentioning that the narrator of the stories (Melusine herself) is a fairy that likes to play with the truth and is prone to lying. The blogposts, which are never labelled as such and can’t be pinned down to a specific time, give an intimate look into Kat’s thoughts and provide additional information about what she has been doing away from the three old ladies that she calls her ‘grandmas’. Even though these switches in perspective might seem confusing in the beginning, they are tied in together very nicely.
So all in all, The Time of the Ghosts is much more than just a ghost/ ghost-hunting story. It is a diverse story about friendship and family, Jewishness, aging and mystery.