Book Review: You’d Look Better as a Ghost by Joanna Wallace

FIFTY+SA Arts Reviewer. Dave Bradley, reviews the darkly funny and compulsive thriller from Joanna Wallace, You'd Look Better as a Ghost.

Wallace’s début novel has been compared to Jeff Lindsay’s hugely popular Dexter stories (later adapted for TV, of course), and yet whereas Dexter doesn’t even think of himself as human, Wallace’s Claire is capable of self-awareness, genuine grief, a kind of compassion, and a particularly sharp sense of cutthroat humour.

Living just outside London (much like Wallace herself), prolific serial killer Claire is struggling to come to terms with the death of her father after the many years he spent with worsening dementia. This is perhaps why she’s driven to commit a savage murder without all the necessary careful planning, which leads to a darkly amusing series of twists as Claire tries to show emotion in a bereavement support group, get her art career properly going, and deal with a mob of assorted characters who, in some ways, are far nastier than she is.

Like Dexter, Claire tends to only kill truly awful types, but this is also proving difficult given that she’s lately started to be more forgiving and less judgmental, even though she’s still often cruelly funny. And really dangerous.

Italicised flashbacks suggest, to a point, why Claire commits such horrific acts, and yet, despite her past, she nevertheless increasingly finds herself able to behave ‘normally’: make friends; help out in a crisis; feel outraged at the abuse of the vulnerable; and mostly contain her worst impulses. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t bash a few heads in, every now and then.

And maybe the most uncomfortable trick that Wallace so deftly pulls here is how she makes Claire truly amiable. And Claire’s not a sociopathic show-off like Dr. Hannibal Lecter or an empty blank like Dexter: no, she’s very nearly an ordinary, everyday person, and could well be living next door to you right now.

You’d Look Better As A Ghost is published by Allen & Unwin: Profile. RRP $32.99 (paperback)

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