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Harlot's Ghost: A Novel Paperback – September 1, 1992


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 1191 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345379659
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345379658
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #516,527 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Those who quail at the prospect of a 1400-page novel by the author of Ancient Evenings and Tough Guys Don't Dance need have no fear. Mailer's newest effort, a mammoth imagining of the CIA that puts all previous fictions about the Agency in the shade, reads like an express train. Never has he written more swiftly and surely, more vividly and with less existential clutter. A contemporary picaresque yarn, Harlot's Ghost bears more than a slight resemblance to those great 18th-century English novels that chronicle the coming-of-age of a young rogue with good connections. Harry Hubbard is a bright young man whose father and whose mentor, Hugh Montague (also known as Harlot), are both senior CIA figures and induct him into the Agency. Most of the book, after a melodramatic beginning, is one long flashback, Harry's autobiographical account of his early career--partly in his own words, partly in an exchange of letters with Harlot's beautiful, brilliant wife, Kittredge, whom Harry admires from afar and will one day steal. He is seen in training in the '50s under real-life figures like Allen Dulles and Dick Bissell, and with the martini-swigging, pistol-toting William Harvey at his first post in Berlin--where he meets Dix Butler, who becomes in a sense his nemesis. A quiet spell in Montevideo under Howard Hunt follows, then he goes to Washington, where he watches the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Cuban missile crisis develop--and becomes the lover of President Kennedy's mistress. The book winds down with Kennedy's assassination and a sense of growing despair, only to conclude with a gnomic "To Be Continued." Whether or not there is really to be a sequel, Harlot's Ghost is entirely self-contained, and a bravura performance. In an author's note listing his voluminous sources and the relation of fictional to nonfictional characters, Mailer claims that good fiction "is more real, more nourishing to our sense of reality, than nonfiction." The book is an utterly convincing portrait of that strange, snobbish, macho, autocratic collection of brainy misfits who have played so large and often tragic a role in American history. BOMC main selection; first serial to Rolling Stone.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

To call Mailer's CIA novel a spy story would be like calling Moby Dick a whaling story. If you are seeking myriad details about how The Agency really operates, you will find them here, but Mailer has always sought the nuances that give facts their essential meaning, and that is what makes this book so much more than just another CIA expose. For Mailer's true purpose is to define that part of the American psyche that has spawned and sustains the CIA. It is a spirit (and note that this is a book more metaphysical than political) born of militant Christianity and buccaneering rapacity, of noblesse oblige and authoritarian devotion, a spirit believing itself turned in to God without worrying if it's heeding the devil. The dialectic here is Manicheanism more than Marxism, and--shades of Melville--the quest is one in which we may forfeit our souls. An immensely long but never laborious book, one where Mailer works compelling variations on his quintessential themes. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/90.
-Charles Michaud, Turner Free Lib., Randolph, Mass.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

The ability of the author to hold reader interest for 1100+ pages is amazing.
oplinged@admin.tc.faa.gov
Mailer creates realistic three-dimensional characters that mingle seamlessly with real historical figures and actual events.
Christopher A. Smith
For me, they added very little, and were written in a fashion I found extremly pretentious.
C. Davidson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Christopher A. Smith on June 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
This sprawling 1,000+ page epic about two generations of CIA officers is difficult to characterize: part history, part period piece, and part fiction. Mailier mixes the comings and goings of historical figures and real events with a well-developed cast of fictional characters in a way that reminds the reader of E.L.Doctorow's masterpiece Ragtime.
Harlot's Ghost impresses as an authentic and comprehensive glimpse inside the inner workings of the CIA. The book's strongest message is that this infamous organization of spooks and bogey-men is no more than the sum of it's parts - the officers and agents - and by giving us a view of their motivations and desires we understand a bit more about how and why the CIA does what it does.
The protagonist, Harry Hubbard, is a second generation CIA officer who bounces around the globe from assignment to assignment, managing to land in each hotspot long enough for us to see the Agency's role through his eyes as events unfold - from Cold War Berlin to the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Enjoyable though this novel is, not everything works. Hovering as a backdrop to all the action is the idea of deceit and duality: East vs. West, intelligence vs. counterintelligence, information vs. misinformation, the means vs. the ends, idealism vs. pragmatism. This theme is captured by the theory of Alpha and Omega - a theory developed by Kitterdge Montague, CIA research psychologist and love interest of Harry Hubbard. The theory, in brief, states that there are two fully formed and competing personalities trapped within every individual, and that the key to human nature is to understanding the relationship between these two personalities.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Archmaker VINE VOICE on August 1, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There is a pretty good 600 to 700 page novel in here. Unfortunately, this opus is 1300 plus pages so you can guess that I found a lot of excess in Harlot's Ghost. Frankly, there are reams of it, and a lot of it is pretty tough sledding to get through.

Before his passing, Norman Mailer cited Harlot's Ghost as one of the 5 or so novels he was proudest of and considered his best work. I can understand his pride because he had obviously done a prodigious amount of research for the novel and throughout the book you have the sense that he got a lot of the spycraft and the inner workings of the CIA right. He also caught the very WASPy air of the early CIA and its founders and practioners, and he recreated the Cold War mindset quite well. As I said, there is a very good book within this encyclopedic epic.

But there is an awful lot of rubbish too. I found all the frabba jabba about the Alpha and Omega theory to be silly. I found pages upon pages of elaboration that neither moved the story along nor offered any pertinent insights or interest. I found the object of our hero's romantic affection, Kitteridge, not very interesting, and many of their letters (which form a substantial part of the book) overdone, and overly precious.

The book finally picks up interest in the last quarter with its sometimes gossipy-but-accurate, anecdote-laden recitation of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the Kennedy brothers, Castro, and the CIA characters involved. Having just read the history of the CIA in Legacy of Ashes, I thought Mailer fleshed all of this out quite well and entertainingly.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mark B. Friedman on December 29, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Harlot's Ghost" is a major novel by a major, and unique American novelist, Norman Mailer. Originally published in 1992, it was a return to form for Mailer after many years in which he was better known for his non-fiction and his highly public boozing and brawling lifestyle. While it is worthy of being celebrated for many not inconsiderable virtues, it is also seriously flawed: overlong, plodding and inconclusive (the novel closes with the words "To Be Continued" but it never was.) It is probably best enjoyed by someone who shares some of the author's obsessions with the CIA, the Kennedy assasination and the ideals associated with male vigor that the generation that came of age during World War II adhered to prior to the sexual revolution of the 60s.

It is a fictionalized account of the CIA, focusing on the years between 1955 and 1963, culiminating in the assasination of President Kennedy. (As a point of reference, Robert deNiro's recent film "The Good Shephard" covers similar ground.) It's sweeping narrative encompasses a number of factual tales along the way, including the spying tunnel built by the CIA under East Berlin in the 50's and the book's centerpiece, the CIA's involvement in the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961, the CIA's bungled attempt at an invasion of Cuba to foment a counter-revolution against Castro. It is informed by the extensive airing of the CIA's penchant for "dirty tricks" that became public in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

Mailer's novelization covers this factual ground in a relatively entertaining fashion using a fictinal narrator named Herrick (Harry) Hubbard. He is himself a CIA operative and witness to many of these real-life events.
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