A review of R. A. Dick's The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Review by Amanda Pike
I have an invisible boyfriend! Really...
(This picture of the book cover has the author's real name. It was originally published under the name R. A. Dick.)
This is a negative AND positive review. Let's begin with the positive...
I am writing this review to remind people there are better works of supernatural romance out there than Twilight. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is one such example. The novel was written in 1945 and then adapted into a film with George Sanders and later a TV series in the sixties.
The ghost and Mrs. Muir tells the story of a young widow, Lucy Muir who has decided she wants to break away from the control of her over-bearing and dominating in-laws. Already by this point the feminism and strength of the protagonist of the 1945 novel exceeds that of the more modern supernatural romance Twilight. When Lucy Muir finds a house to her liking she discovers very quickly that it is haunted by a very vocal spectre of an old sea captain by the name of Captain Daniel Gregg.
The ghost of Captain Daniel Gregg is one of my three favourite fiction ghosts. The list consists of Captain Daniel Gregg of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Sir Simon de Canterville from The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde (particularly Patrick Stewart's portryal) and Hrothbert of Bainbridge AKA Bob from the short lived television series adaptation of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (Hrothbert of Bainbridge doesn't exist in the actual Dresden Files novels).
The plot is pretty straight forward. A widow decides she doesn't want to be dominated by her in-laws so she moves to a house by the sea. The house happens to be haunted by a dead sea captain that everyone believes committed suicide but it turns out his death was accidental. The sardonic old ghost and the widow become reluctant friends after getting on each other's nerves. And eventually fall in love. The widow gets seduced by a living jerk (played by George Sanders in the movie) who is only using her. When Mrs. Muir starts to run out of money she writes a book about life on the open seas called Blood and Swash and it ends up successful.
There's a lot of comedy in which the ghost puts her in-laws in their place by pulling pranks on them and provoking Mrs. Muir / tricking her into telling them off. But in the end I won't deny it's a romance and not everyone's sort of thing. In general I don't like romance novels but this one amuses me.
In The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, despite the ghost's seeming misogyny Lucy and the captain develop a quirky and strangely affectionate relationship. For all of his roughness and snark the captain is actually a gentleman inside. The character portrayals are realistic and very human unlike the protagonists of Twilight in which the characters are two dimensional archetypes to appeal to a shallow demographic.
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir isn't just a sweet romance. It also has a running wit and humour completely lacking in most modern romances. It seems today all attempts at humour in romance become self-parodies. There's more to the story than just fluff. It's about taking control of your own life, standing up for yourself, independence, love and moving on, the power of love and friendship, and the value of love, life and family (no matter how unusual the definition might be) all told with excellent wit and humour.
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is highly underrated. It deserves more attention. It is a brilliant story far ahead of it's time. I actually wish there would be a new film adaptation of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, not because I think there is anything wrong with the first film adaptation, but because I think a new generation should be introduced to good supernatural romantic fiction and opposed to what is currently trendy and sadly many of the current generation won't watch a black and white film or read a novel more than twenty years old because they make negative assumptions about the content such as assuming it would be out dated, stuffy, cheesy or hard to follow. The ghost and Mrs. Muir is none of these things. It's a head of the curb and I certainly would rather re-read The ghost and Mrs. Muir than Twilight. Thanks to Terrence Mann's portrayal of Hrothbert of Bainbridge in the short lived Dresden Files TV series I can completely see him as Captain Daniel Gregg if there was a new film version to be made.
I strongly recommend The Ghost and Mrs. Muir to anyone interested in supernatural romance, ghost stories, dry wit, or just good literature in general. This semi-obscure gem needs more attention and I truly feel it is of a higher quality in writing than what is currently fashionable in supernatural literature and fantasy.
Now for the negative:
The one truly annoying thing about The Ghost and Mrs. Muir novel is that you never physically see the ghost. This really gets on my nerves. The book is written in such a way that you're supposed to just forget that you never actually see the ghost but I don't.
Because you never actually see him and because the ghost opts to telepathically communicate with Mrs. Muir there has been some debate on if the ghost was real or just a figment of Mrs. Muir's imagination, a manifestation of what she needed in order to make herself assertive and independant. There are subtle hints that he might only exist in her head and you're made to question this a lot. Is he real or isn't he? I don't like this.
The ambiguity of this however is quickly broken by the final scene in which we are given a scene of the ghost and Mrs. Muir together shortly after her own death. Yet again there is no physical description but I guess it's because ghosts have no physical bodies.
The lack of physical description for the ghost and the implication that he never takes physical form in the novel is somewhat annoying. It eventually got on my nerves. I understand the author might have wanted to make it hard to tell if he was real or just in her head (which later gets mocked in an episode of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir TV series with the episode 'Dear Delusion') but it seemed like a half-hearted attempt at depth that wasn't fully explored.
The question if is the ghost real reminded me of the film K-Pax and the novel it was based on where you had to question if the character was really an alien or just a mental patient (which later revealed in the series that he was an alien after all). I actually did not like this. It seemed to take away from Mrs. Muir's character to hint that Captain Grregg might have only been in her head. She was strong enough without him in making up her mind to leave her controling in-laws.
This was one thing that I felt they improved with the film and TV series in giving the captain a physical manifestation, the illusion of a living man he chose to appear as. The one thing I preferred of the novel though is that in the novel the ghost doesn't abruptly leave her when she's attracted to the jerk, Miles.
In the film she finds out Miles is already married and then she has no one because the ghost left her. It's implied that Captain Gregg did this because he didn't want to interfere with her life. He wanted her to live her life, not pine for the dead. He even had her convinced that their entire relationship had just been a dream. I HATED this in the film. In the novel He leaves for a little while but not through the rest of her entire life, leaving her lonely until she dies (again, I hate that in the film). And he never convinces her that he was just a dream.
It bugs me that he never manifests physically in the novel and there's a half hearted attempt to make you question if he's real or in her mind. And that was one thing I'm glad they didn't use for the film. The film needed a physical appearance for the ghost and it worked better.
In general I do like this book but it's not perfect. And I have to admit that if it had been left ambiguous if the ghost was real or not I might not have liked it at all. I don't need a romantic version of The Turn of the Screw where you spend the whole time wondering if the ghost is real or in her imagination. I suspect that it's possible that her publisher demanded she confirm the ghost was real at the end because it might not sell otherwise.
I liked the personality of the character of the sarcastic and seemingly misogynistic ghost and don't like the idea of him only being in her mind. At times he was the most fleshed out character of the story.
Oh, well. At least it's better than Twilight. I think perhaps all reviews here should end on that note. Oh, well. At least it's better than Twilight...