Anyone’s Ghost by August Thompson

Reviewed by Rod McLary

From time-to-time, there are novels which grab the reader from the first line and never let go.  When these novels come along – and there are so many of them – they are a joy to read; even more so when it is a debut novel.  Anyone’s Ghost is such a novel.  The first line – It took three car crashes to kill Jake [2] – is all it took for this reviewer to immersed in the narrative of Theron David Alden – fifteen years old and lonely – and Jake Siegel – seventeen years old and beautiful.

Set out in three parts – each representing a period in Theron’s life when he and Jake were together.  Part 1 ends after the summer holidays when Theron returns to his mother and school.  Part 2 is seven years later – Theron is now in New York and in a relationship with Lou but expecting Jake to arrive for a visit.  And it is during this visit that they both realise – after the second of the car crashes – that they do love each other and together consummate their relationship.  Part 3 – ominously subtitled Anyone’s Ghost ­ – details the aftermath of the third car crash and concludes the novel.

Told in the first person by Theron with an intensity that only a fifteen-year-old can achieve, the narrative sets out in pitch perfect language the dialogue of teenage boys – both internal and spoken – on the cusp of adulthood and within a complex relationship which neither can fully comprehend.

But this is not a gay love story – at least not yet. Theron not so much wants Jake but wants to be him: to have his confidence, his ease of manner, his being ‘an expert in all the things [Theron] longed for’ [55].  But the relationship is a two-way street; as Theron says – ‘It took me years to understand that Jake needed me as much as I needed him’ [55].  Their friendship at this time thrums with unacknowledged and unexpressed adolescent sexuality just waiting for the barriers to dissolve.

Theron and Jake spend the summer working together in a hardware store, taking drugs, drinking alcohol and driving endlessly – and learning about each other.  Together, they have the first of the three car crashes referred in the novel’s first line.   But Jake has another life – one based in his home city and one which is not shared with Theron.  This other life pulls Jake away and leaves Theron hurt and confused.  The complexity of adolescent emotions and the conflict between separateness and togetherness is brilliantly captured in the passages of the novel in which Theron attempts to explain Jake’s actions to himself.

When they reunite in New York seven years later, their sexual pull to each other breaks through; and that moment was, as Theron says: something precious and light-filled, something I compared everything else to, even if it hadn’t happened yet [233].  Theron’s description of their first sexual encounter – while never prurient – is described both erotically and sensitively as they move towards full expression of what had always been there.

Ultimately, the novel concludes with a tragedy no less beautifully rendered than anything before.  One of the final sentences poignantly expresses Theron’s reflection on the times that he and Jake were together: And how there’s no one but me who saw us be ourselves [302].

Anyone’s Ghost is a novel which will haunt the reader for a long time.  It is crafted with a sense of longing and sensitivity – and expresses the deepest emotions of two young men moving inexorably towards a relationship which defines them both.

Well recommended.

Anyone’s Ghost


by August Thompson

Pan Macmillan

ISBN 978 103503 409 3

$34.99; 308pp


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