"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton
This is where I chronicle my reading life. I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.
This book was beautifully and hauntingly written, the latter description being especially apt. I've read other reviews claiming this is not "really" a ghost story, but it's enough of one that I would not read it in the house alone at night, and that the image of the spectral woman haunting the protagonist continues to linger in my mind weeks after I've finished the book.
Rather than say that this isn't "really" a ghost story, I feel that it is really much MORE than a ghost story. And that's why it held my interest throughout.
There are essentially three threads interweaving to tell this story: in one, a new mother struggles with her shifting identity and her marriage after she decides to leave a successful career as a lawyer to stay home with her first child. Another story follows the story of a woman in a German-American community in the late 1800s. And the third, that of the ghost, vaguely connects them.
I found the modern-day, new mother's--Bridget's--story most compelling, and I was probably about halfway into the book before I didn't resent it every time the narration panned away to the historical characters. Still, that aspect of the story grew on me as well. The writing and the characters in both eras are incredibly vivid, and as I read I could feel their longings and insecurities, see the world as they saw it even though, as an outsider, their choices often frustrated me. Still, it never stopped seeming "real," ghost and all. Adcock is especially good at capturing the nuances of marital love and resentment and the overwhelming devotion coupled with troubling ambivalence new parents face. Her descriptions of the 10-month-old baby were spot on and triggered all five senses, not just the dominant sense of sight.
There were some characters I wanted to get to know better -- Bridget's friend, Martha, who only appeared in one scene, or her mother, who I couldn't quite get a handle on, or her husband, who remained fairly elusive to me up to the end. I also had a little trouble with the plot of the "ghost story" -- I never really did truly understand the "barter" for which the book is named, nor did I feel like I truly "got" the ending. I wondered a bit about the book's message when it comes to the choices women make on the career-motherhood continuum.
So, if this book was "just" ghost story, I don't think it would have been enough for me. It was because Adcock so masterfully captured the real world around the ghost that I was able to overlook what might have otherwise been fatal flaws.