Flash Review – The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit

by Sharon Browning
The Ghost in the Electric Blue SuitGhost in the Electric Blue Suit
Graham Joyce
Release Date:  August 5, 2014
ISBN 978-0-385-53863-3

The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit is a coming of age story – not about a boy becoming a young man; rather, about young man cutting ties from home and courting the consequences of independence in one eventful season of change.

Set in 1976, nineteen year old David Barwise decides to take a summer job at a seasonal resort in the seaside town of Skegness, England rather than stay at home and work at his stepfather’s construction company, as had been assumed and arranged for him.  His parents are not happy with David’s going off to Skegness, especially as he doesn’t even really have a job, as much as have faith that one will be available for him.

But there is another reason why David has planned to find summer work at Skegness: all he has of his biological father is a fading Polaroid of a man standing on a beach.  It was taken the summer that David was three, when father and son went to the coast at Skegness, just the two of them.  All David has ever been told about that summer was that his father had suffered a heart attack and died there; of this, David has no memory.  But then, he was only three after all.

Now on the cusp of adulthood, David feels compelled to return to Skegness, to seek out memories of his father or at least to make some kind of connection with the man who gave him life and then disappeared without a whisper.  He mother never talks about her first husband, and when David informs her that he plans on spending the summer in Skegness, her careful non-reaction, other than a “Why on earth would you want to go there?”, deepens his desire to search answers to unasked questions.

But this emotional underpinning is not where the book dwells; instead, it chronicles David’s somewhat frantic summer among an eclectic group of performers and staff holding together a falling down holiday resort at the height of the tourist season.  Hired on the spot and immediately thrust into a “greencoat” job (assisting with programs such as the “Bathing Belle Parade” or the “Glamorous Grandma” contest, refereeing children’s football games, organizing sandcastle competitions, and the like) he flies by the seat of his pants for a few breathless days, until the routine and his place in it start to make sense.  But it’s not just the job that comes with no training – the people he works with are both friendly and somewhat frightening in equal measures.  It’s a delight to follow along with David as he finds his footing (and then comes dangerously close to losing it again) in both his life on the job and in what goes on behind it – which is not always happy-go-lucky, especially when it involves menacing love triangles, political extremism, and sudden missing persons.

Within this realm of structure and chaos comes a man in a blue suit, standing at the edges of David’s sight, a man who always seems to be holding a rope and who sometimes has a young boy in tow, who seems aware of David and responds to him, but is himself indistinct, unremarkable.  As the summer progresses, this mysterious man becomes more present in David’s life, a conundrum of the unknown and the wished for.

The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit is at turns humorous and suspenseful, nostalgic, touching, chilling and gently but grimly supernatural.  It is beautifully written with simple but lyrical prose, easy to read, but much fuller in story and scope than the modest length would suggest – a book that may be read in a few days, but will linger much, much longer.  Exquisite.

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