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. Merging Sedgwick's gift for suspense with science- and historical-fiction, Ghosts of Heaven is a tale is worthy of intense obsession.
I love Marcus Sedgwick. He's not afraid to take risks, and even if they don't pan out, his writing is beautiful and intriguing, so you don't really care. This book in particular, was inspired by the Sedgwick's love and fascination with spirals.
One of the most interesting things about The Ghosts of Heaven is its format. The book is a set of four interconnected stories, which the author (in his note in the beginning of the book) says can be read in any order you choose. In fact, he encourages you to do so! This means there are 24 possible ways to read this book. Each will form its own unique narrative. I find this fascinating, because it's potential for readers to have wildly different experiences while reading.
Now, the question is, does this work? To a degree, yes. Reading through, I caught signs of how the stories could connect in different ways. I personally chose to read straight through, the way Sedgwick laid it out in the book. I can easily see how it might be more interesting mixed up or backwards though!
Each of the four stories is vastly different. A girl in a land before written language when magic was still strong. A seventeenth century town in the middle of a witch hunt. An insane asylum on Long Island in the 1920s. A man aboard a spaceship far in the future, saving humanity by flying into the unknown. However, each of the stories revolves around the notion of the spiral--a natural phenomenon that speaks to these characters across the ages.
All of the stories are heartbreaking in their own unique way, and they all drew me in. I'll be honest though, the application of the spiral theme seemed a bit forced to me. I would have been equally as happy had the theme of it been a little less heavy-handed, and the audience left to create the connections on their own. While reading, I couldn't help thinking of Sedgwick's book Midwinterblood, which won the Printz award in 2014 and was far more successful in it's time-hop story telling.
All in all, while The Ghosts of Heaven wasn't my favorite book, I did enjoy it. I think it's a solid read, and if you like things that break genre and traditional form, this book is definitely one you should check out! In the mean time, I hope Mr. Sedgwick continues to take risks, because I will happily keep reading his work.