Ghost Wife started to appear in bookstores last Friday, and Heather and I spent Friday night strolling from shop to shop in a wonderful procession that involved seeking the book out, finding it, being delighted, and taking pictures. Since my last book was a poetry collection, and poetry books barely hit bookstore shelves, this process is entirely new to me. What would it be like, I wondered, to see the book in the store? And what would it be sitting next to? At Hill of Content, Ghost Wife was sitting between books about or by Jacques Derrida and Deborah Devonshire (the youngest of the Mitfords). At Dymocks, it was in "biography" instead of "Australian biography," and sat between Jung Chang's Wild Swans and the autobiography of Clarissa Dickson Wright, one of the Two Fat Ladies (did you know she had ten middle names? Amazing). At a third store, it sat between a Susanna Devries biography and The Happiest Refugee. It was all just wonderful, and Heather and I celebrated afterwards with ice-cream. That night, we also grabbed a copy of Australian Book Review, in which the reviewer Jay Daniel Thompson calls Ghost Wife "powerful and deeply moving." The next day, over breakfast, we read a review in the Age, in which Thuy On says the book is "poignant and moving, the prose clear-eyed and affecting all at once." And then today, we spent the morning at the ABC studios talking to Natasha Mitchell on Radio National's "Life Matters." You can listen to the podcast of the interview here.
Amid all the excitement of actually being on the radio, I forgot to mention that it was "Life Matters" that gave me one of the central metaphors of the book. Well, more precisely, it was the historian Stephanie Coontz, who went on "Life Matters" back in 2005 to talk about her book Marriage, A History. It was during Coontz's discussion with host Julie McCrossin that I first heard about the phenomenon of ghost marriage. At some times in the history of marriage, Coontz said, people have married ghosts. In China, for instance, the practice was not uncommon (and still occurs today), and ghost marriages were viewed as legitimate marriages before the law, though one party was a spirit (or in some cases, both: two ghosts could be married to each other). There was even a ghost wedding ceremony.
In the case of my marriage to Heather, I realised it would be the marriage itself that was the ghost, for once we left Canada, the marriage would become a kind of apparition, at least in terms of the law. What a strange thing, then, to come to "Life Matters" not as a listener, but as a guest—and with a book that was sparked in part by the listening experience.