I detest the term “coming of age", especially when it is used to describe a book or a movie. That’s because most books or movies that feature young people can be described thus. I find this a lazy description, an artifice that reviewers use when they do not want to spend time venturing into the mind of an author or film-maker.

Ghost world: Two girls on a roll

This issue of CF is about Ghost World, and I promise not to use the term “coming of age" to describe it. There are probably more people out there saying “And about time too" about my decision to write about Ghost World than who have read the book (or seen the movie—the one redeeming feature of the movie, to my mind, is that it stars a young Scarlett Johansson; some books don’t make good movies, and Ghost World is probably one).

Ghost World and its author Daniel Clowes have attained a “cult" status among many people who do not usually read comic books. I suspect that much of this has to do with the book being considered a fashionable one to read and have read in some circles (much like Satrapi is considered these days).

Ghost World is about two young girls and their lack of direction. They are looking for something, some ideal world in which to live in (the term ‘Ghost World’ can be seen in various panels of the book, a reference to the search of the two protagonists and, indeed, most of us). Both grow up. One finds what she thinks is “it", or maybe she settles for us, but at least the book ends happily for her. Another doesn’t—her name is Enid Coleslaw (her father changes his surname legally from Cohen) and as any halfway decent crossword buff will realize, this is an anagram for Daniel Clowes—and leaves town at the end of the book to make a fresh start.

Clowes himself makes a brief appearance in the book, although this seems to be a metatextual sleight of hand that reeks of self-indulgence more than anything else. Ghost World is serious fiction much like J.D.Salinger’s The Catcher in The Rye is serious fiction. It manages to capture a slice of American life that hasn’t changed much in the past several decades (the book is set in the 1990s and was released in individual issue form in the mid-1990s): In the US, young people have to decide, after high school, whether they want to go to college. That isn’t an option in India, where pretty much everyone belonging to a certain economic class goes straight to college from school without really bothering with the kind of existential questions that bother Clowes’ two female protagonists.

Still, most people, young and old, have looked for direction at some time in their lives, and that probably explains Ghost World’s popularity.

Write to Sukumar at cultfiction@livemint.com