It’s more admirable to fail at greatness than to succeed at mediocrity. This is a risk Marcus Sedgwick has taken with The Ghosts Of Heaven, and sadly it’s one that hasn’t paid off.
The Ghosts Of Heaven is split into four 100-page segments, each entailing a story set in a different place and time. Sedgwick arranges them roughly chronologically, but apparently they can be read in any order.
It’s an interesting concept that takes guts to even attempt, but sadly doesn’t quite work. It’s all very well having four semi-simultaneous stories, but if none of them are especially compelling it largely defeats the object.
Quarter one, Whispers In The Dark, is written as a patience-stretching, long-form poem lacking in rhyme or rhythm and is a terrible choice as an opener (our recommended order is two, three, four, one).
But the real killer is quarter two, The Witch In The Water, about an uninteresting young girl named Anna. Living in an era of religious zeal, her mother has only just passed away when a cruel witch hunter comes to town and singles her out as a suspect.
Multiple plot threads dangle in this section of the book – stillbirths, witchcraft, romance, jealousy – but Sedgwick’s prose does little to elevate what could easily be a novelised prequel to Downton Abbey.
Sedgwick seasons the book with hints of intrigue then cuts them off at the knees; the recurring theme of circles and spirals would reach a fever pitch were they not lampshaded by dictionary definitions in the prologue and Anna herself drawing attention to their reoccurrence.
It’s hard to fault Sedgwick for trying to do something different, and The Ghosts Of Heaven is a fascinating curio in theory – it’s just a shame it fails to live up to its conceit.