The Death and Life of Charlie St Cloud, a review by Joanna

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The Death and Life of Charlie St Cloud

Ben Sherwood

Published May 01, 2005

Picador USA


There are several genres and plot elements that I’m not much into, and they include romance, ghosts, the afterlife, sailing and baseball. It’s therefore somewhat surprising that I would pick up a book like The Death and Life of Charlie St Cloud, which includes all of these, let alone like it. This sweet story set in New England was published in 2005, but holds up pretty well. I found it at a book fair – it’s got a stamp from a South African backpacker’s hostel at the front, but I know it’s been sitting on my to-read bookshelf for at least ten years, waiting for the day when I needed something short, light and easy to read.


Charlie lost his younger brother Sam, and their beagle Oscar, in a terrible accident when he was fifteen, and has never forgiven himself. Thirteen years later, he lives a quiet life as the caretaker of the town cemetery, and hides a secret – he can see and communicate with the ghosts of the recently departed, including Sam, who has never moved on and is forever twelve. Then Charlie meets Tess, a fearless sailor about to sail solo around the world and must make a choice – follow the living, or honour a promise and stay with the dead?

This was a charming love story about letting go of those we’ve lost, with two likeable protagonists. I thought I had worked out what was going on but was only part right. It’s not a Christian story, although most of the characters are believers, and you could take the conclusion either way. There was one sentence I really didn’t like, early on: “Thirteen years had passed since the paramedics had failed to revive his little brother.” This was a terrible thing to say, even if this is just Charlie’s POV – the paramedics didn’t fail, Sam was dead beyond resuscitation, and it was Charlie and the drunk driver’s fault, not the poor paramedic’s! Other than this quibble, and the multitude of sports references that seem to characterise books like this by male American authors, I enjoyed this, and would recommend it if it’s still available. It actually turns out they made a movie of it, starring Zac Efron which I had never heard of – check it out the trailer on IMDB!

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