Meet the aptly named Jack Perdu, a
lonely 14-year-old who lost his mother in a
mysterious, freak accident 8 years earlier. He and
his father live on the campus of Yale University
where his father is an archaeology professor.
Jack leads a quiet life, spending his free time helping one of the
Classics professors with his translation of Ovid's
Metamorphoses, until the fateful day when
Jack gets knocked down by a car and starts seeing
what he later understands are ghosts. A couple of
days later, his father sends him to New York to
visit a mysterious doctor; on the way home he meets
a young female ghost named Euri in the whispering
gallery of Grand Central Station and travels into
the Manhattan underworld with her - not the
underground but the underworld itself, where those
who die in New York with unfinished business spend
their days until eventually "moving on" to Elysium
(which is rumored to be "somewhere in the Hamptons").
After a slightly slow start, the story picks up pace. In keeping with the Orpheus myth, upon which The Night Tourist is obviously based, Jack quickly realizes that he has just three days to spend in the underworld, which means three days to find his mother. To help him in his search, Euri leads Jack on a whistle-stop tour of New York City above and below ground (at dusk, the ghosts emerge from the underworld through fountains in the city, and spend the night living it up, before returning to the underworld before dawn).
We go to the New York Central Library where complimentary "Now That You're Dead" seminar's are offered to newcomers by former mayor Fiorella La Guardia, and take in a production of The Producers, where ghosts who have failed to pre-book crowd into the 'floating room only' section. The underworld is a lively place, peopled with famous and infamous New Yorkers, from corrupt police offer "Clubber" Williams (see sidebar), who's found his perfect canine companion in the three-headed dog Cerberus; to Dylan Thomas who, from his barstool in Chumley's, nightly reenacts the fatal drinking binge that killed him.
If you're familiar with the Orpheus myth, you'll have a good gist of how the story will progress, but not without many unexpected twists and turns, and an ending that, despite the odds, manages to surprise. A couple of times, convenience for the sake of the storyline takes the place of credibility (would Jack's father really have let him travel to and around New York by himself, knowing what he did about Jack?); but such contrivances are few, and overall Marsh stays true to the essence of the original story while putting a modern and very witty spin on the timeless themes of love, loss and longing.
This review was originally published in November 2007, and has been updated for the September 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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