Review of Cardiff Ghosts by Vincent Stephen: an unpublished novel

“Every cleaner in this building is black. Or every one of them that I’ve ever seen. African black. Dressed in white shirts like the one I’ve got. Pushing and pulling for the illusion of hygiene. I think these are the same men and women who keep the toilets clean. They are here when I arrive in the morning and they are here when I leave. He came around the corner and he gave me a smile. I raised my hand to him open palmed. He is half invisible here. Cardiff ghosts live in the stairwells and on the train station platforms. Under the bridges which the trains take above street height. In the lifts stuck between floors in derelict buildings. The unfinished foundations of the halls of residence.

Back on my floor I had five minutes left of my lunch and I was standing in the toilet staring at myself in the mirror. From the centre of my head, down the right hand side, between my temple and my ear, a long white hair streaked down to my chest. A single line of white in a blanket of black. Like the rings in a tree trunk. The lines around your eyes…”

Cardiff Ghosts is not a ghost story.  Or is it?  I found it to be a haunting tale in the sense that I’ve gone on thinking about what happens to the characters long after I stopped reading.  It’s set in Cardiff in 2003 and features two alternating narrators: one telling his part of the story in the present tense, and the other looking back with retrospect.  The above excerpt should give you the briefest of glimpses into the overall mood of the novel.

Alexander and Ruth, the two narrators, both seem to be existing unhappily in the present moment.  They are stuck in dead-end jobs, seemingly without any ambition or get-up-and-go.  In fact their lack of energy and inability to make changes to their lives cleverly builds tension and a sense of frustration.  This grows throughout the novel, and you commit yourself to the story, knowing that soon something big must happen, that an opportunity must be taken and not be allowed to slip past as so many others have.

The two characters meet and the novel follows their hesitant progress.  While the daily lives of Ruth and Alexander are for the most part ordinary, and at times are painfully mundane, the writer really gives the reader an insight into how each character feels and deals with each situation, using two distinct but genuine voices.  We delve straight into the minds of two people who are on the one hand complete opposites, and on the other hand appear to be kindred spirits.  Alexander in particular is a very powerful character: not in terms of his actions but in terms of his dark, despairing stream of consciousness which clashes so violently with the stagnant life he tries to escape.

Cardiff Ghosts is, at present, an unpublished novel.  The author asked me to read and review it – I was more than happy to as the script engaged me from the first chapter.  Unfortunately, this does mean that you won’t be able to rush out and buy this book, but watch this space – I’d hope to see the title appearing on book covers in the near future.

If you’re an intrigued agent or publisher, please let me know!  Leave a comment or contact me via the “Get In Touch” page.  Or, if you’d like me to review your own book, I’d love to hear from you too.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Britt Ribero
    Oct 13, 2011 @ 08:25:27

    Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is a very well written article. I’ll make sure to bookmark it and come back to read more of your useful information. Thanks for the post. I’ll certainly return.


  2. Trackback: Don’t You Understand This City? | vince stephen

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