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Ghost: A Novel by Alan Lightman
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Ghost: A Novel (edition 2007)

by Alan Lightman

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Member:yazdanpour
Title:Ghost: A Novel
Authors:Alan Lightman
Info:Pantheon (2007), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 244 pages
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Ghost by Alan Lightman

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A beautiful, timely and timeless meditation on irreconcilable belief.

David Kurzweil saw something. The right word seemed to be "ghost." He couldn't not tell someone; the experience was too overwhelming to carry alone. Someone, unfortunately, told other people, people with agendas - reporters looking to break stories, believers looking to hold up David's experience as proof for their beliefs, scientists looking to debunk the proofs of the believers, individuals needing, for personal reasons, to feel the empowerment of knowing something outside the knowable - and not only does the ensuing media circus endanger David's job, it also places his friends and loved ones in awkward positions of having to defend their love for David while not sharing his conviction.

Woven into the story are his confrontations with other things that haunt him, such as the marriage he lost, the lie about the significance of his job that he told to his mother, his memories of his parents, and his lack of visible success relative to his peers, and with other things that only David seems to see: the redness of a toy ball, the beauty of a lake in a local park, the immense worth of his new employer, Martin, despite Martin's conviction that he would never measure up to his own father, a perpetual ghost in the fourth-generation funeral home that Martin still runs, though Martin has no children to whom he can teach the trade.

No, there isn't a thriller-satisfaction Shyamalan twist at the end. There isn't even a final explanation of what the ghost was. No, David doesn't convince any of his family or sciencey friends to believe him, and no, he isn't entirely sure what he believes besides the fact that he saw something, even at the end, when so many questions have come and gone by without clear answers. Some people think David makes a significant and positive difference. Others are glad when the story dies down.

Mr. Lightman, as seems to be his wont, isn't interested in giving us a systematic metaphysics, or even a hint about what to believe. What he wants us to see, and what David learns to see, is that even when nobody else can see what haunts one, one has everything to gain by trusting that something unusual and beautiful comes with every ghost, if one has the endurance to hold a belief in a world in which no other person can share the richness of a moment of one's own experience. The book becomes such a moment to the reader, a thing that can be shared but not mutually and exactly duplicated, a thing that is comic and clever and sad, but in the end, utterly, overwhelmingly, deeply and personally, beautiful. ( )
  Nialle | Jul 1, 2013 |
How can he be certain of anything that occurred in the past? He cannot be certain of thoughts. His thoughts, her thoughts. Even if every minute...had been recorded on a video camera, with oceans of gigabytes, that camera could not show thoughts...The only thing he knows for sure is what happens this instant, this razor blade of the present. But immediately the present is past. (209)

It was so fleeting, so quick. Is something true if it happens only once? If it is experienced only by one person at one time? (244)

( )
  JennyArch | Apr 3, 2013 |
The good news: Alan Lightman has written his was back into my good graces, following his dismal effort The Reunion. I'd call this one just shy of 4 stars, but it's so far and away better than his previous that I'm rounding up.

David has recently gone through a rough patch--his wife left him, he got laid off from his job at the bank, and he's been looking for some kind of new employment that's not far from his current residence. What he finds is a funeral home. He's surprisingly good at it, and the owner of the business starts training David to do all the different tasks, not just chasing down death certificates and setting up chairs. While working late one night, David sees something. A wisp of some sort, coming out of or going into a dead body. It was only a few seconds, but he saw it. Whatever it was, he saw it. And he can't shake that knowledge.

Eventually word gets out and the funeral home is swamped with people requesting interviews, requesting David's help in talking to deceased loved ones, just wanting a look around the place. David talks to university physicists and representatives of the Society of the Second World, and finds few answers in either place. His life has been turned upside down, all because of something he's pretty sure he saw for about five seconds.

Lightman is primarily a theoretical physicist himself, and his works shine when he's writing scientific fiction. (Not sci-fi, but fiction with a scientific grounding; physics, biology, medicine.) While Ghost doesn't dazzle a reader with the poetic grace of Einstein's Dreams, his writing still flows organically, rhythmically, across the page. Lightman's style is slightly reminiscent of Bradbury, with short clauses strung together into long sentences, and while there are few lines one can isolate to say "this is a beautiful turn of phrase," the writing blends into a seamless, almost melancholy whole. David is a well-drawn, well-rounded character I'd like to meet, to talk to in his apartment building's coffee shop, to get to know, and that's due more in part to Lightman's writing of him than any exciting goings-on in David's life. ( )
  librarybrandy | Mar 29, 2013 |
[Ghost: A Novel] is the story of David, a divorced, recently unemployed man who accepts a temporary position at a mortuary, where he sees what he believes to be a supernatural event, described as a “vapor” entering or leaving a body. When word gets out, he becomes subjected to unwanted media attention and is drawn into a public controversy between a society of believers, who seek to demonstrate that he has special powers, and members of the academic community intent on disproving this.

This was a quick, unexpectedly light read that was enjoyable primarily in the flow of its language and the author’s creation of a strong sense of anticipation. However, I had mixed feelings and found it ultimately disappointing, as the characters and plot lacked depth. The main character struck me as insipid, with the owner of the mortuary, Martin, being of more interest. I also found the story line to be shallow and predictable. This book has been described by others as a compelling examination of the tug and pull between the supernatural and science and one man’s struggle to come to terms with his beliefs. However, I found this aspect of the novel to fall far short of this assessment. Rather, it spoke more strongly to me as a story of how an unexplained experience, subject to an unwarranted level of public view, can impact one’s life well beyond the significance of the event itself.

Alan Lightman is both a theoretical physicist and a novelist, perhaps best know for several earlier works: [Einstein’s Dreams], an international best seller, and [The Diagnosis], a finalist for the National Book Award. Given these credentials, I expected much more of this novel, the first of his works that I have read. However, Lightman is clearly a writer with some talent and I am not inclined to dismiss him entirely on the basis of this one book alone. I plan to attend a talk that he is giving, after which I will decide whether to invest time in reading another of his books. ( )
1 vote Linda92007 | Jan 14, 2012 |
This wasn't very good and I had to force myself to read it, which is odd for me since I love reading. I can count how many books I've had to force myself to read on two hands, this would be one of them. ( )
  irunfrombears | Sep 7, 2010 |
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This book is dedicated to Vanna, Phally, and the young women residing in the Harpswell Foundation Dormitory for University Women in Phnom Penh
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I saw something.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375421696, Hardcover)

Alan Lightman’s first novel, Einstein’s Dreams, became an international best seller and was hailed by Salman Rushdie as “at once intellectually provocative and touching and comic and so very beautifully written.” His novel The Diagnosis, called “highly original and imaginative” by the New York Times, was a finalist for the National Book Award. Now comes a stunning and disturbing new novel about a man’s encounter with the unfathomable.

David is a person of modest ambitions who works in a bank, lives in a rooming house, enjoys books and quiet walks by the lake. Three months after unexpectedly being fired from his job, he takes a temporary position at a mortuary. And there, sitting alone in the “slumber room” one afternoon at dusk, he sees something that he cannot comprehend, something that no science can explain, something that will force him to question everything he believes in, including himself. After his metaphysical experience, all his relationships change-—with his estranged wife, his girlfriend, his mother--and he grudgingly finds himself at the center of a bitter public controversy over the existence of the supernatural. As David struggles to understand what has happened to him, we embark on a provocative exploration of the delicate divide between the physical world and the spiritual world, between skepticism and faith, between the natural and the supernatural, and between science and religion.

Combining a dramatic story with compelling characters and provocative ideas, Ghost investigates timeless questions that continue to challenge contemporary society.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:43:03 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"David is a person of modest ambitions who works in a bank, lives in a rooming house, enjoys books and quiet walks by the lake. Three months after unexpectedly being fired from his job, he takes a temporary position at a mortuary. And there, sitting alone in the "slumber room" one afternoon at dusk, he sees something that he cannot comprehend, something that no science can explain, something that will force him to question everything he believes in, including himself. After his metaphysical experience, all his relationships change - with his estranged wife, his girlfriend, his mother - and he grudgingly finds himself at the center of a bitter public controversy over the existence of the supernatural. As David struggles to understand what has happened to him, we embark on a provocative exploration of the delicate divide between the physical world and the spiritual world, between skepticism and faith, between the natural and the supernatural, and between science and religion." "Combining a dramatic story with compelling characters and provocative ideas, Ghost investigates timeless questions that continue to challenge contemporary society."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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» see all 2 descriptions

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