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Linda Coussement
CONTRAST; a novel
Ghost wakes to find that he is, in fact, dead, and has many more questions than answers. Why is he still here? Where else is he supposed to be? How is he supposed to get there? Without a physical body, Ghost can no longer find comfort in the pleasures that helped him get by in life and is forced to search for the truth about his past and his present. He enlists the help of Leora and Xander, the neighbors who now live on the land that once belonged to him. As memories of Ghost’s haunted past return, all three of them face existential turmoil that challenges their sense of self. Storms rage outside in the gardens and inside their own hearts. Leora, buckling under depression and grief, finds an unexpected friend in Xander, who doubts if he’s ever really lived at all. While Ghost dives deeper into his traumatic history filled with love and loss, the storms worsen and the wall grows higher until only one question remains for each one to answer: Do I have the courage to face what I fear most in order to find meaning in both life and death?
Coussement debuts with a searching speculative drama about the meaning of life and death and how emotional wounds from our past affect our future. In the Netherlands, a cheerful man called Ghost discovers he is dead yet able to communicate with humans and animals. On the property where he once lived, a concrete wall divides the lot into two. A depressed young woman, Leora, inhabits one side, while a frustrated businessman named Xander lives on the other. The neighbors become friends and unite to learn more about Ghost, this man with a mysterious past and possibly tragic future—will Ghost be stuck on earth forever as a translucent half-man, half-spirit?

From the first page, talking animals alert the reader that this is no ordinary drama. Personified nature has a voice and adds an allegorical element. Even an oak tree makes itself known by literally knocking sense into Ghost. Hints of mystery surround the environment: why do characters experience unhappiness when standing near the wall? Why does Ghost wane in and out of view? Conversations among the three characters help each find greater purpose in their lives. But nothing can help Ghost reach afterlife peace unless he at last digs into his painful past.

Contrast’s compact length and conversational prose make it readable and keep the pace rigorous despite its searching, sometimes heady qualities, especially lengthy flashbacks and frequent passages of inner dialogue. Plot here is subordinate to characters’ thoughtful exploration of personal philosophies—Contrast is very much a novel of the mind, though Coussement never over-intellectualizes the topics. And even though mortality is a major theme of the book, everyday humor keeps the mood light. “An existential crisis is much more useful when you actually exist,” one character muses. Coussement’s style allows readers to feel like they are hanging out with familiar friends, somewhere between this world and the beyond.

Takeaway: Thoughtful, surprising existential adventure between life and death.

Comparable Titles: Pik-Shuen Fung’s Ghost Forest, Michael Thompson’s How to Be Remembered..

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A