Mickelsson's Ghosts


by John Gardner. Knopf, $16.95. The protagonist (one can hardly call him a hero) of Mr. Gardner’s novel is a once-distinguished professor of philosophy whose career, marriage, finances, and wits have fallen into extreme disrepair. As distraction from his troubles, Mickelsson acquires a run-down house in a superstition-ridden countryside and sets about putting the place in order. The house proves to be genuinely haunted, but the ghosts are the least of Mickelsson’s difficulties. With an ingenuity that borders on the awesome, Mr. Gardner has afflicted the poor fellow with every possible misfortune except an atomic strike. The author’s intention, presumably, is to create a metaphor for the problems, new or inherited, burdening contemporary society, but despite fine writing and some splendid individual scenes, the novel ends by arousing numb disbelief. There is simply too much of everything, real or fantastic; the disasters cancel each other out and become meaningless.