With Susan, is her middle-aged husband, Hal. Hal is scarcely mentioned in the previous novel but, in Ghost Lights, he becomes Millet’s protagonist. Once again Millet surprises the reader by choosing an unlikely individual to tell her story: a very ordinary man, almost an everyman, a mere IRS bureaucrat, who yet is complex, fully-fleshed and strangely endearing.
Hal is a flawed man, only too aware of his own mediocrity, married to a woman who is probably too good for him. At the same, Hal has just come to realize that Susan may be unfaithful to him. They have a grown daughter, Casey, who, as a teenager, was badly injured in a car accident and now lives as a paraplegic. Hal, quite illogically, has always felt responsible for the accident, and a sense of mourning, and regret over ‘things that might have been’ has dominated his life since.
Drunk, to a degree he has not know since his youth, Hal declares that he personally will go to the Belize resort where T was last seen, and find Susan’s missing boss. His motives are far from noble. He sees this as an opportunity to escape, if only briefly, the feelings of betrayal, mourning, and ineffectiveness that have become almost too much for him to bear. He cares little for T personally. He will grieve only as far as politeness requires if the man is never found. But Hal shares the story of T with some German tourists who eagerly take it on as their own. With supernatural German efficiency, they organize a search party. Millet’s descriptions of the German couple (Hansel and Gretel—I kid you not) and their two bronze-skinned boys are some of the funniest things I’ve read in a long time. They provide much welcome comic relief in an otherwise melancholy tale.
Millet’s writing always skirts alongside the dark edges of humanity, but never without compassion, often with humour and always with love for her central characters. In How the Dead Dream, the theme of extinction. and the sadness over the final days of things, is central. The theme returns in a surprising way in Ghost Lights, culminating in one of the most memorable death scenes I have ever read.
Definitely worth the read.