Ghoster is about as modern a horror novel as one could hope to find.
At this point in time, the vast majority of us live the bulk of our lives on our phones, literally and figuratively. Whether it be scrolling through social media, playing games, browsing the internet and all its myriad distractions, or chatting away with people we rarely – if ever – see in the flesh, our existence is based on, in and around our phones. Which makes the idea of someone finding their way into our phones, discovering our true selves hidden behind whatever facade we’ve manufactured for ourselves within the context of the real world (or IRL, for those who prefer such acronyms), so fucking terrifying. Everything about our inner lives exists on our mobile devices, these machines having come to know us better than our families or significant others. So what do you do when you stumble on the phone of someone who you thought you knew only to have them “ghost” you completely?
For Kate Collins, the protagonist of Jason Arnopp’s Ghoster, the answer is obvious: you do your damnedest to get into that thing and find out why the guy you thought you were going to spend the rest of your life with simply up and vanished without a trace. A recovering phone addict, Kate has recently downgraded to the comparatively primitive flip phone after very nearly killing her best friend while on an emergency call. An ambulance driver and paramedic, Kate’s full attention must be on her job at all times, something smartphones make impossible, particularly for dopamine addicts like herself.
When she meets and falls for Scott through a dating app just as her addiction is reaching its near-fatal apex, she surrenders herself entirely to her new relationship, abandoning her obsessive checking of recent ex’s status updates, Twitter posts and Instagram photos. This new relationship – with both Scott and her flip phone – finds her reclaiming her life in ways she never thought possible. In a matter of months, Scott has invited Kate to live with her in his seaside apartment. Just before she’s to move in, however, Scott simply vanishes from the life they’d been sharing via text message.
With a growing sense of dread that she’s been ghosted by Scott for unknown reasons, she makes her way to his place. Having put all of her proverbial eggs in the Scott basket, she has little choice, having given up her place, job and, for all intents and purposes, life to start fresh with him. Finding his place empty of everything – furniture, clothing, Scott, etc – she really begins to panic. It’s during this time that things start to take a more supernatural turn as she stumbles upon his smartphone and the potential treasure trove of secrets it could well be hiding.
It’s here that Ghoster begins to play with its titular phrase in the more traditional sense as Kate begins having a series of late night visitors at Scott’s empty place of the supernatural variety. Without giving too much of the plot away – not that it’s all that hard to suss out where the narrative is going – one thing leads to another and Kate finds her way into Scott’s phone and digs deeper and deeper into his life. By the time the novel reaches its predictable-yet-satisfyingly-unsettling conclusion, Kate has found herself fully engrossed in all the information Scott’s phone has to offer, consequences be damned.
Ghoster is about as modern a horror novel as one could hope to find, often coming off as an unsettling version of Fleabag, its protagonist hitting a number of the same beats both in terms of the manner in which she has lived her life and the comedy beats. But its clever use of a modern device upon which we’ve all become so unshakably reliant is its greatest strength, placing the horror within our pockets and the obsessions that lie therein. Often predictable but never dull, Ghoster is a thrillingly welcome addition to the world of 21st century horror writing.