This article analyses the ontological status of the characters who inhabit the world of John Banville’s novel Ghosts. While the problem of volatile selfhood recurs in Banville’s fiction, in this novel the very existence of the characters within the fictional world remains doubtful. It is argued here that the numerous metafictional elements in the text are central to its interpretation. The novel itself should be treated as a work in progress or a design for a novel rather than a completed project. The narrative initiates and ultimately resists familiar patterns; the characters’ peculiar way of being alive seems to stem from an intersection of empirical reality and an obscure realm of fantasy, imagination as well as textual and artistic allusions. Correspondingly, the narrator’s status as a literary character is ambiguous. The article suggests that the narrator is the most likely creator of the characters within the fictional world and is himself a playful author-substitute in the novel. In conclusion, a reading that treats Ghosts as a postmodern artefact appears to provide a viable framework for resolving the apparent contradictions and ambiguities in the status of the characters.