When June came around, the anticipation for a new book from iconic Northern author, Jenn Ashworth, was finally relieved with the release of Ghosted: A Love Story. Published by Sceptre, it’s the latest in a string of diverse, gripping and unforgettable reads written by the Preston-born, now Lancaster-based author.
On first impressions, Ghosted may appear to be a book about the modern dating concept of ignoring someone into non-existence. While the author does touch on that idea being the origin of the title, her book subverts it, taking it to new extremes. Her husband literally vanishes without a trace, whether purposefully or not.
The premise of the story is really that simple — it’s the vivid complexity of the self, relationships and navigating those two things which makes this book so incredible. On one ordinary morning, Laurie’s husband, Mark, disappears. Leaving his phone and wallet behind, he vanishes from the face of the earth, seemingly without a trace. The story explains how Laurie tells no-one for weeks, going about her daily life as if nothing has changed at all. As far as elevator pitches go, it’s certainly a book I was very intrigued to get into.
Laurie decides that in order to establish why her husband has disappeared from the present, she must revisit the past and retrace the steps of their relationship. One of the most enjoyable aspects of Ashworth’s brilliant novel is the way she captures the complexity of love and the way we interact with others. In Ghosted, marriage is ordinary in moments, exceptional in others; dull at times and warm in glimpses. There is no black and white with Ashworth’s characters — every person and the relationships they’re entangled in are laced with excitement, intrigue and multi-layered complexity.
While diving into the depths of love and all of it’s mysteries, the author delivers the story with some of the wittiest and most humorous writing I have ever experienced. Despite the content being deeply sad and heart-wrenching at times, Ashworth’s storytelling is cackle-inducing to say the least. In one instance, the narrator refers to Penelope, the wandering Odysseus’ faithful wife as a ‘poor daft sap’. While reminding the reader that the author is definitely northern, she makes use of classical parallels in the funniest way possible. Rivalling the likes of Otessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation or Raven Leilani’s Luster, the book combines tragedy with wit in a way that makes an unsolved mystery satisfying — it was truly a delight to read.
As well as razor-sharp humour and complex relationships, Ghosted also explores class, physicality and memory, all with absolute writing excellence. There’s no doubt that this book deserves a place on everyone’s summer to-be-read pile, especially if they’re particularly interested in flawed women narrators and on the lookout for a Northern setting. Jenn Ashworth is a stellar writer and Ghosted is the perfect addition to her already-iconic list of books, all entirely unique and eccentric in their own special way.
Ghosted: A Love Story was published in early June, now available to buy here.
Words: Beth Barker
Beth Barker is a writer and blogger from Blackpool, now working in Manchester. She also co-hosts Up North Books, a podcast celebrating books and writers from the North of England.
Beth wanted to contribute a monthly review to NRTH LASS in order to shine a light on Northern women writing great books. The North is very much underrepresented in publishing and she hopes a monthly review throughout 2021 will showcase the talent Northern women have to offer.
For more book reviews and insights on publishing in the North, follow Beth on Instagram and Twitter.
Helen Brady is an experienced Event Manager at Events Northern. She is a Proud Prestonian, born and bred, and is passionate about shopping small and spending local. She also co-founded Make Do Drink, a collaborative platform and workshop series that brings pop up events to Preston City Centre. Here is her love letter.
It’s February and in case you hadn’t noticed, that means that love is in the air.
Although that can usually be a good excuse for an outpouring of public admiration for your nearest and dearest, this writer doesn’t really go all in on the mushy stuff.
Instead, she is going to focus her affections on her hometown and all its cheeky charm.
Now, as much as your author would love you to picture a Northern Carrie Bradshaw, typing away on a MacBook, at an Instagram-able desk, in an inexplicably large and extremely well decorated apartment. Sat staring out at the hustling, bustling streets below while penning an elaborate love letter to the exciting scenes that stretch out before her; the reality is in fact quite different.
She is actually sat at her kitchen table, huddled over a trusty Dell laptop (yes, it’s heavier to take to meetings, but no, it has yet to malfunction), eating tea (it’s absolutely not called Dinner, have you read the name of this publication?) and listening to Storm Ciara whoosh round all the rubbish outside.
So no, as you may have guessed, she does not reside in glamourous New York; the city that never sleeps, but the place she does call home is England’s 3rd newest city, Preston, in Lancashire. And believe her when she says, unlike the buzzing metropolis of Manhattan, on a cold Monday evening in early February, the city of Preston is asleep by 10:30pm.
Despite its lack of Cathedral (we’ve got St Walburge’s instead; it’s got the tallest spire of any Parish Church in the UK) Preston was granted City Status in 2002 after winning the Golden City contest in celebration of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations. So, we are a City…. kind of.
Unlike the buzzing metropolis of Manhattan, on a cold Monday evening in early February, the city of Preston is asleep by 10:30pm.
As a home grown Prestonian who has moved away, then come back, then moved away, and come back again, your writer will confidently say that one of Preston’s main charms has always been its people. It is difficult to replicate the no nonsense, quick-witted and kind-hearted sense of humour that overflows into conversations everywhere. And in recent years this unique sense of character that exudes from residents is beginning to be weaved into the fabric of the city itself. What was once a textbook town is now becoming a thriving community of homegrown entrepreneurs, independent business and creative communities. The ever-growing feeling of opportunity and optimism seems to be more prevalent than it ever has done before. Nicola Darwen, a freelance creative based in the City Centre explained, “My favourite thing about Preston at the moment is the feeling of potential, we have such a rich history and people are starting to cotton on to the fact that we have a really bright future too!”
A previously average night out is now dotted with quirky bars and independent pubs. We’ve got vintage stores and makers markets. There are stunning Victorian parks and beautifully preserved architecture. We’ve got Butter Pie’s and Easter Monday Egg Rolling and the Preston Guild. Famous alumni include Nick Park, Freddie Flintoff, Edith Rigby, and Lubaina Himid. A city whose symbol incorporates the letters PP, Proud Preston, is living up to its name and giving its residents a reason to shout about it.
Amy Cheadle is the Co-Founder & Sales and Marketing Director of The Northern Dough Co, a thriving food manufacturer based in Preston. She explained that it is the community spirit of the area that makes it unique to her, “What I truly love about Preston is the connections people are so passionate about making with each other and to their surroundings. From small businesses working together on collaborations, to people using their free time to protect and preserve the city’s heritage, almost everyone I speak to is actively contributing and proud of this place, its history and people, and wants to own a part in its future.”
The city is absolutely brimming with inspirational Northerners doing amazing things in business. We have butchers, bakers and trendy brogue makers, all bringing amazing homegrown products to market. We have MDs and CEOs ploughing both precious time and money back into the growing local economy. We have entrepreneurs and innovators developing the processes and products of the future. The thing that all these people have in common is that they decided to do all these things here. In Preston. In Lancashire. They are part of an ever growing creative, business community that is constantly collaborating, sharing best practice and helping each other grow.
Lynsey Thompson, Managing Director at Wash Studio whose HQ is based in the heart of the city on Winckley Square explained, “Preston to me feels open, unpretentious and honest. There is a real sense of community building here, which welcomes all types of people and business – a place where you can truly be yourself. It is a city that is ready for change and I believe is open to the people within to help shape its future.”
With all of that in mind, although we may not be giving Manhattan a run for its money any time soon, Preston and its proud people are working together to create a sense of place that you can truly fall for. And isn’t that exactly what February is for!
We asked our Proud Prestonian contributors for their go-to destinations to get that feel for the City:
The new Preston Markets are a perfect example of that mix of traditional and forward thinking – you can still get all your fresh produce, meats and cheese from stall holders that have been selling for generations, but you can now also get a mean brunch and a glass of wine on the side! Nicola Darwen, Freelance Graphic Designer
My favourite place in Preston is Winckley Square. I’m probably biased as it’s where I work but I love seeing a whole variety of people come to enjoy it. From community events and historical talks to school trips and lazy days in the sun. It’s the perfect place to people watch, surrounded by beautiful, historic buildings. Lynsey Thompson, Managing Director, Wash Studio
I think the place that best represents the vibe in Preston for me is the gin bar Plau on Friargate. It quite literally charts history from some of the earliest days of our city, right through to the present day, and was painstakingly rediscovered and renovated by a team of people with incredible passion for restoration, history and community. To me, it’s the complete embodiment of what makes Preston and its people great, with the bonus of great food and cocktails while you’re drinking in the history. Amy Cheadle, Sales and Marketing Director, The Northern Dough Co