The Ghosts Of Heaven – Marcus Sedgwick
A bold, genre-bending epic that chronicles madness, obsession, and creation, from the Paleolithic era through the Witch Hunts and into the space-bound future.
Four linked stories boldly chronicle madness, obsession, and creation through the ages. Beginning with the cave-drawings of a young girl on the brink of creating the earliest form of writing, Sedgwick traverses history, plunging into the seventeenth century witch hunts and a 1920s insane asylum where a mad poet's obsession with spirals seems to be about to unhinge the world of the doctor trying to save him. Sedgwick moves beyond the boundaries of historical fiction and into the future in the book's final section, set upon a spaceship voyaging to settle another world for the first time.
Review: This is going to sound like the most self-centered thing ever, but I feel like Marcus Sedgwick understands me on a deep level. I’ve never met him and never will, but he can somehow see inside my mind. Like, if I made a list of all my favorite story elements, he’d have a book that has every single one of them. That’s why I’m slowly making my way through his backlist. Marcus and I (I can call him Marcus, right? That’s not creepy, right?) seem to operate on the same wavelength. Or something. I don’t know. It’s very odd. He scoops stuff out of my brain and arranges it on paper in ways I didn’t know were possible.
The Ghosts of Heaven is a bizarre and complicated collection of novellas. Each of the four novellas centers on the different meanings of a spiral. The same spiral imagery runs through the whole book. It’s weird and hard to explain, but I promise it works.
“You want to go back to where you began. You want to find the happiness you once had. But you can never get there, because even if you somehow found it, you yourself would be different. You would have changed, from your journey alone, from the passing of time, if nothing else. You can never make it back to where you began, you can only ever climb another turn of the spiral stair. Forever.” – The Ghosts of Heaven
The first novella is written in verse. It stars an ancient human girl who scribbles meaningless shapes in the dirt. After her tribe is attacked by invaders, she realizes that she could have saved her family if she’d been able to use the shapes to convey meaning. This is my favorite novella in the book. The verse makes it a quick read. It’s suspenseful and beautiful and haunting. I knew that Marcus Sedgwick was a brilliant prose writer, but it turns out that he can write verse, too. I guess he’s one of those annoying people who are amazing at everything.
Story number 2 jumps forward to the witch hunt years. A preacher comes to town to bring Christianity to a population whose beliefs seem to be a mixture of Christianity and Pagan-ish rituals. Shortly after the preacher arrives, a young boy has a seizure while playing with a spinning top. The preacher accuses the boy’s sister of using witchcraft to cause the seizure. This story has a few too many characters, viewpoints, and plotlines for my tastes, but it’s still my second-favorite in the book. It’s a slow-motion train wreck (in a good way). You know it’s going to end badly, but you’re too mesmerized to look away.
The third novella is my least favorite. It’s set in an insane asylum in the early 1900s. The main character is a doctor. One of his patients is a poet who’s afraid to walk up the asylum’s spiral staircase. The novella is written in diary form. The plot and characters are compelling, but again, there’s a lot going on in this story. I didn’t think all the disparate threads came together as well as they could have.
“The only true connection we have to the world is our minds. Yes, our senses can feed us information, but the information means nothing on its own. It is our minds that give things meaning. It is our minds that create the world for us. And minds can be mistaken. Minds can become confused. Damaged. What then of the world? How does it appear then? It, too, appears confused and damaged.” – The Ghosts of Heaven
The final story is science fiction. Five hundred people are traveling through space to find a new Earth. Twenty-something years into the mission, someone starts murdering the travelers. The main character discovers that there’s a mathematical pattern to the murders, and the murderer may be using math to warn him about the future of the mission. I love the suspenseful murder mystery aspect of this novella, but the ending is confusing. I’m not good enough at math or science to understand it. Basically, time and parallel universes get messed up near a black hole. This novella is for smart people. I am not one of those people.
“To see yourself on camera is not a natural thing, a thing no normal person is comfortable with; for it shows us as others see us, not as who we believe we really are.” – The Ghosts of Heaven
I think this is a book that readers will either love or hate. It depends on your tolerance for weirdness. Personally, I love it. If you like Midwinterblood, you’ll probably like The Ghosts of Heaven because they have similar structures.
Also, can anyone tell me why this book is marketed as YA? Most of the characters are adults. Unless I missed something, it doesn’t deal with typical YA themes. Is it just marketed to teens because the author’s other books are for teens?
Whatever this book is, I enjoyed it immensely. I already want to reread it because it’s so complicated that I think I’ll get more out of it on the next go-around. I’m eagerly looking forward to whatever Marcus Sedgwick writes next.