Reading All the Beloved Ghosts by Alison Macleod is like creeping through someone else’s house and peering into rooms that aren’t yours. You glimpse other lives from the belongings left behind or the musty scents stirred up as you open doors. Each of Macleod’s stories is beautifully lifelike, yet ghostly.
From the first story, ‘The Thaw’, set in Nova Scotia following the romantic history of the Macleod family, to the final story re-imagining the infamous Bloomsbury Group, Macleod perfectly captures every character and every intimate moment. The book’s prose is humble yet haunting and will have you underlining entire passages.
Many of the stories feel voyeuristic, with characters watching other characters or people remembering their lost loved ones. An anonymous narrator recounts ‘her great-aunt who fell under the ice’; Denis Noble dips into his memories while waiting for a heart transplant; a teenager photographs Princess Diana…
While each story is a self-contained slice of life vastly different from the others, the collection feels complete in its themes and tone. As you peep into each ‘room’ or story of the book, you discover recurring threads.
In a moment of metafiction during ‘The Heart of Denis Noble’, Macleod writes:
“Every part of a great story ‘contains’ every other part. Every small part anticipates the whole… Because the whole cannot be divided. That is what real creation is.”
And this is precisely what Macleod practices in her collection. The stories begin to echo from the pages in ways you can’t quite put your finger on, but the essence of the book and its themes – life and death, past and present, memory and dream – resound clearly.
All the Beloved Ghosts by Alison Macleod is a stunning short story collection to read and re-read (and re-read again).
Kyra Thomsen is a writer from Wollongong, NSW. She was Deputy Editor of Writer’s Edit until 2017 and her work has been published in Kindling, Seizure, Space Place & Culture, Mascara and more. You can find more at kyrathomsen.com or on Twitter/Instagram with @KyraThomsen.