Speaking of Ghosts … Exploring the Supernatural Love Story
Emily Colin, author of The Memory Thief, explores three supernatural love stories.
Romantic relationships are challenging enough when both parties involved are sentient, conscious, and among the living. When one half of a couple has shuffled off this mortal coil—and yet continues to influence the other on a daily basis, not merely through memories but through action—that adds a whole new level of complexity.
I’m talking, of course, about ghosts.
THE MEMORY THIEF … “I will come back to you.”
In my novel, THE MEMORY THIEF, mountaineer and husband Aidan James is dead for most of the book, killed in an avalanche on Alaska’s Mt. McKinley—but he’s still present as a narrator, one of three voices that tell my characters’ story. He stands in his wife’s room and watches her sleep; he visits his four-year-old son, the only person who can see him; and he shares mental and emotional real estate with a stranger, high school teacher Nicholas Sullivan.
Back in the day, I guess folks would’ve called the latter ‘possession’—but that has a negative, demonic feel to me, and that’s not what Aidan’s relationship with Nicholas is about. It’s about communication with those he left behind, about keeping a promise to his wife, Madeleine … I will come back to you. She’s the only woman he’s ever loved, and he swore he’d never let her down. Of course, there are a few obstacles in his way—and so the story goes.
Writing THE MEMORY THIEF got me thinking about other novels where one of the main characters is no longer alive, technically speaking—but they’re not quite dead, either, to paraphrase The Princess Bride. If you’re a writer, and want to play around with this idea, one of the most interesting ways is through the lost art of time travel.
The OUTLANDER Series … WWII nurse meets 18th-century Scottish rebel
Take, for instance, Diana Gabaldon’s OUTLANDER series, in which Claire, a former World War II combat nurse, goes back in time to 1700s Scotland, where she falls in love with rebel, criminal and warrior Jamie Fraser. Before Claire met Jamie in 1743, he was, of course, long-dead; and should she return to the 20th century, leaving Jamie behind, in effect he’d be dead once more. Still, her ability to time-travel renders the notion of Jamie’s death somewhat fluid, rather than an absolute. I won’t say more, so as not to give too much away for folks who haven’t read the series—but suffice it to say that, in addition to being a spellbinding read, the OUTLANDER books are a fascinating meditation on love, time, and the enduring bonds that knit the two together.
THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE … or, The Adventures of a Reluctant Librarian
Another twist on the ghostly love story is Audrey Niffenegger’s novel, THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE. Here, Henry, a Chicago librarian and one of the two main characters, has a genetic anomaly that causes him to time-travel, often without warning and against his will. (Attention: Spoiler Alert!) Most frequently, he goes backward, into his past—but on rare occasions, he travels into the future, and a few of these sojourns take place after his death. On these occasions, is Henry a ghost? In a literal sense, I suppose not—but to his wife, Clare, lonely and left behind, Henry’s reappearances must surely have an eerie, otherworldly feel.
What do you think? Have you read the OUTLANDER series or THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, and if so, what do you think about the ability of love to render time somewhat irrelevant? How does the addition of a ghostly element affect your enjoyment of a good story—or does it matter? Do you have favorite books—on your shelf or e-reader—that successfully blend the romantic with the supernatural? Please share—I’m always looking.