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The Ghost Writer

September 6, 2007

Imagine that A.S. Byatt’s Possession and Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale had a baby. Now imagine that Henry James agreed to play godfather, but Charles Dickens also popped in from time to time.

That baby’s name is The Ghost Writer, and John Harwood is the proud papa. I read about this book on a blog; I used to think it was over at superfastreader’s, but now a search on her site isn’t bringing up the title. So if you’ve reviewed The Ghost Writer lately, let me know so I can give some credit. :) It duly went on the TBR list; then, the R.I.P. II challenge appeared, so I went off to bookmooch. There, I obtained a *gorgeous* copy (it looks like it’s never been read before), and the cover has been teasing me for the past week. I mean, look at it:

I was planning on waiting awhile for this one, since I just finished my first R.I.P. II read; but, as Oscar Wilde puts it, “I can resist everything except temptation.” Then, I was planning on reading it only at night; that would make it creepier and make it last awhile longer. But today was full of thunderstorms, and the baby took a really long nap, and that cover was just crying out to me.

I finished it about half an hour ago, but I wasn’t go to review it; I was going to review a couple other books I finished earlier for other challenges. However, the perfect introduction formed in my head, so I had to run on over to blogger and share the news.

This book kicks ass.

For all of you who enjoyed The Thirteenth Tale, for its shamelessly gothic plot twists and book references, for all of you who loved Byatt’s use of several distinct styles in Possession, I have someone I’d like you to meet.

The Ghost Writer tells the story of Gerard, an Australian librarian (told you it was for bookish people) who grows up on his mother’s stories about her idyllic childhood in England. When he’s thirteen, he gets a British penpal, Alice, who he tells about the mysterious photo and story he found hidden in his mother’s vanity. The story was written by “VH,” which happen to be the initials of his great-grandmother, Viola Hatherley; after Gerard finds the photo and story, his mother refuses to talk about England ever again. Meanwhile, Gerard and Alice become close friends, and Gerard decides to travel to England. While there, he explores the mystery of his mother’s past, coming across more stories written by VH. As events get eerier and eerier, Gerard begins to wonder…is he going crazy? Or stuck in the middle of a ghost story?

The best part of this novel are VH’s stories; they’re all included, and take up 167 pages (of 369). Harwood has done a very good job of weaving them into the plot, but really these stories (they’re all ghost stories) could stand alone in their own collection. They’re just stunning (and very creepy); I hope that Harwood writes more of VH’s tales in the future.

There are weaknesses to the book: sometimes Gerard seems incredibly dense (I was on to the twist by at least half way through, whereas Gerard can’t figure it out until the very, very end) and the ending is quite abrupt. While I personally enjoy endings that leave a lot up to the reader to figure out, some people might feel annoyed. The ending definitely leaves room for a sequel, or related book, with more of VH’s work, which made me very excited.

I realise that perhaps I should provide a sample passage from one of VH’s stories, so that y’all can recognise the sudden obssession I have; the following is from “The Gift of Flight.” The main character, Julia, was reading the the British Museums’s Reading Room when she suddenly looked up and realised the room was blanketed in a thick fog. Then she hears someone sit down in the chair next to her…

Very slowly, keeping her eyes on the fog-bank between herself and her invisible companion, Julia began to ease herself off her chair, hoping to slip away silently in the other direction, towards the catalogue. Her chair creaked loudly, and as it did so the wall of fog to her left rose up like a curtain.
In that first glimpse, Julia was relieved, though startled, to discover that the chair beside her was occupied by a child, a little girl of no more than eight, with golden curls and pink cheeks, dressed in a starched white frock and petticoat. The reassurance lasted only an instant. There was something fixed and unnatural about the bright, smiling face turned towards Julia, and especially about the eyes, which had been slightly downcast, but suddenly opened wide with an audible click. They were the shoe-button eyes of a doll; the face looked as hard and rigid as porcelain; and yet the creature was alive, for it was swinging its legs around with evident intention of sliding off its chair and coming over to Julia.

Isn’t the writing beautiful?

I’m very glad that I read The Ghost Writer for the R.I.P. II challenge; it almost seems like it could be the poster child for the challenge, since it’s very gothic and focuses on ghosts. Another one I’d recommend to just about anyone; it’s both literary and a page-turner. Gosh, it seems that so far the R.I.P. II challenge can do no wrong! Two great books down; I hope the other two can live up to them. :)

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. Nymeth permalink
    September 6, 2007 9:31 am

    I absolutely loved Possession. You have convinced me to try this one! I love books for booklovers, and I really like the passage you shared.

  2. Annie the Superfast Reader permalink
    September 6, 2007 1:34 pm

    I definitely haven’t read this one, but you have totally pegged me! I didn’t get 2 sentences into your review before I started salivating to get my hands on this book…

  3. Sarah permalink
    September 6, 2007 2:14 pm

    I have seen this book before, and I always meant to write down the title, etc but of course, I forgot. I’m heading over the library website NOW to put this on my list! Great review.

  4. Carl V. permalink
    September 6, 2007 2:48 pm

    The cover image and the comparison to Thirteenth Tale are all it takes, I am adding this to my list right now!

  5. Eva permalink
    September 6, 2007 5:58 pm

    Nymeth, this book isn’t as dense feeling as Possession. But I still think you’ll like it!

    Annie, I swear I have such a distinct memory of reading about it on your blog. I must be going crazy. ;)

    Sarah, I hope that you enjoy it!

    Carl V. isn’t the cover great? And the creepy face is on the spine as well! It’s not quite as gothic-y feeling as The Thirteenth Tale, but I think that you’ll enjoy it. :D

  6. Petunia permalink
    September 6, 2007 8:28 pm

    I don’t think I have ever read such an enticing review. I have ordered the book through Paperback Swap. It sounds positively delicious.

  7. Stephanie permalink
    September 7, 2007 3:03 pm

    Oh boy. It looks like another book to add to my ever-growing TBR list!! This challenge is going to kill me!

  8. heather (errantdreams) permalink
    September 7, 2007 3:25 pm

    aieee! another one for the wishlist. :)

  9. Booklogged permalink
    September 8, 2007 4:42 am

    I have a couple points so I’m off to bookmooch this book. I hope.

  10. Framed permalink
    September 9, 2007 12:11 am

    I bookmooched this book last summer knowing nothing about it for not other reason than to read it for this challenge. Sounds like a good decision.

  11. Eva permalink
    September 9, 2007 5:01 am

    Petunia, I hope you like it! Delicious is a good word for it. :)

    Stephanie, I know-so many reviews in this challenge so awesome!

    Heather, I know how that goes. ;)

    Booklogged, good luck!

    Framed, can’t wait to see your review!

  12. Bookfool permalink
    October 12, 2007 2:14 am

    I love that first paragraph! You had me at Charles Dickens popping in, from time to time. I’ve added The Ghost Writer to my wish list. Thanks, Eva! Excellent review and it does sound like a great book for a rainy day. :)

  13. Dewey permalink
    October 16, 2007 1:26 pm

    I would love to imagine Possession and The Thirteenth Tale having a baby, but I can’t because my copy of Possession from bookmooch seems lost in the mail! :(((( But this one sounds so good I’m going to add it to my wishlist!

  14. gautami permalink
    October 17, 2007 8:03 am

    This gets added to my to be read list!!

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