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The Ghost Writer [Kindle Edition]

John Harwood
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (194 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In this tantalizing tale of Victorian ghost stories and family secrets, timid, solitary librarian Gerard Freeman lives for just two things: his elusive pen pal Alice and a story he found hidden in his mother's drawer years ago. Written by his great-grandmother Viola, it hints at his mother's role in a sinister crime. As he discovers more of Viola's chilling tales, he realizes that they might hold the key to finding Alice and unveiling his family's mystery-or will they bring him the untimely death they seem to foretell?

Harwood's astonishing, assured debut shows us just how dangerous family skeletons-and stories-can be.




Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The Cornish prayer: "From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us!" is an appropriate invocation when reading The Ghost Writer, John Harwood’s debut novel. It is a rousing good ghost story, with many twists and turns, rather like taking apart a Russian matryoshka nesting doll.

Gerard Freeman, at age ten, sneaks into his mother's room and unlocks a secret drawer, only to find a picture of a woman he has never seen before, but one that he will find again and again. His mother discovers him and gives him the beating of his life. Why this excessive reaction? She is a worried, paranoid, thin, and fretful type with an "anxious, haunted look." By tale's end, we know why.

Phyllis Freeman, Gerard's mother, was happiest when speaking fondly of Staplefield, her childhood home, where there were things they "didn’t have in Mawson [Australia], chaffinches and mayflies and foxgloves and hawthorn, coopers and farriers and old Mr. Bartholomew who delivered fresh milk and eggs to their house with his horse and cart." It's the sort of childhood idyll that the timid and lonely Gerard believes in and longs for. He strikes up a correspondence with an English "penfriend," Alice Jessel, when he is 13 and a half, living in a desolate place with a frantic mother and a silent father. She is his age, her parents were killed in an accident and she has been crippled by it. She now lives in an institution, whose grounds she describes as much the way Staplefield looked. They go through young adulthood together, in letters only, thousands of miles apart, eventuallydeclaring their love for one another.

Interwoven with the narrative of Alice and Gerard's letters are real ghost stories, the creation of Gerard's great-grandmother, Viola. At first, they seem to be scary Victorian tales of the supernatural. Then, we see that they have a spooky way of mirroring, or preceding, events in real life, off the page. Gerard comes upon them, one by one, in mysterious ways, but clearly something, or someone, is leading him. The stories seem to implicate his mother in some nefarious goings-on, but the truth is far worse than Gerard imagines.

Any more would be telling too much. Turn on all the lights in the house when you settle down with this one, and plan to spend a long time reading because you will be lost in the story immediately. --Valerie Ryan

From Publishers Weekly

Sly nods to spooky literary spinsters—Henry James's Miss Jessel and Dickens's Miss Havisham—set the tone for this confident debut, a gothic suspense novel with a metatextual spin. Gerard Freeman grows up on the windswept southern coast of Australia in the late 20th century with a controlling mother strangely silent about the details of her childhood in England. His only solace is steadfast English pen friend, Alice, to whom he confides everything. What was Gerard's mother, Phyllis, hoping to escape when she left England? The protagonist slowly pieces together his mother's past with the aid of short stories written by his great-grandmother, Viola. These cunning tales, filled with supernatural occurrences and séances, are seamlessly embedded in the main narrative, offering Gerard—and readers—enticing clues into his troubled family's history. After Phyllis's death, her newly liberated son travels to England, hoping to learn more and to pursue elusive Alice. As he searches through the country house his mother inhabited long ago, Gerard finds past and present fusing in horrifying fashion. In the hands of a lesser novelist, sustaining several plot lines might have been difficult. But the novel links textual investigation and sublimated passion, building to a satisfying, unexpected ending.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • File Size: 835 KB
  • Print Length: 386 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (June 1, 2005)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004R1Q3Z4
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #78,587 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
189 of 198 people found the following review helpful
By SGW
Format:Hardcover
I bought "The Ghost Writer" after reading several glowing reviews in my local newspaper and online. I'm a sucker for gothic ghostie stories, and was hoping this would be worth the hardcover price.

AND IT WAS...almost. Actually, I've never had this kind of reaction to a book before. This is my first Amazon review, and I'm writing it because this book elicited enough of a passionate, if completely confused, reaction in me. So maybe that does make it worth the price.

From the first few pages, I absolutely could not put this book down. I abandoned chores, evening television and my signifcant other in pursuit of discovering the next plot revelation and how everything would tie together. Others have relayed the details of the plot, so I won't go into them here. But I found all the characters to be completely attention-worthy; at least in within the gothic genre (okay, this isn't "Atonement" or "Madame Bovary"). The "stories within the story", that is, the ghost stories written by Gerard's grandmother, Viola, are also quite wonderful. They are able to stand alone as compelling and enchanting short gothic stories.

I was turning pages as fast as I could.

And then I got to the last chapter. I read it once. Then twice. Then I went back and read the two previous chapters. I didn't get it. Sometimes, when you have been lucky enough to find a real page turner, you may be reading a little too fast and miss important stuff. That's what I assumed happened to me. I put the book down and went back to it the next day, rereading the last quarter. I was still baffled. I reread the last quarter again. What happened? What did those last few mumbled remarks by The Character In The Last Chapter mean? Did they indicate insanity?
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59 of 61 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an astounding book. It is multi-layered and moody. It is terrific fun.

The story is about a young man named Gerard, born in Australia to a very strange mother who tells the young boy stories of her childhood. When Gerard discovers a strange photo of a beautiful woman hidden in her drawer, his mother becomes horrified, and stops her stories, and the boy is left to wonder about her past and why she is so reluctant to share it with him.

This novel is full of intrique and deception, and we are told some truly frightening ghost stories written by his great-grandmother, Viola.

Okay, here is the thing....when I first read this book, I was confused as to the ending, like so many reviewers here. So I read it again, and I figured it out. This story does makes sense, the author doesn't cheat, and there are answers to most of the big questions. It is a brilliant story filled with twists and full of irony and chilling retribution.

Each ghost story has a relevance to the book, and the overall tone and use of layering and deception is stunning. This book will stay with you for a long time.

This is my favorite book this year, and I am going to recommend it to everyone. Read it carefully, and if you are still confused, read it again. I promise you it will be worth it, and you will agree with me that this is a brilliant, complex novel deserving of a big audience.
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82 of 89 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Stylish, Atmospheric Ghost Story June 23, 2004
Format:Hardcover
In his debut novel, John Harwood creates an eerily psychological horror story with a nod (and a wave) to Victorian literature. As the novel begins in Australia, young Gerard discovers hidden away in his mother's possessions a strange photograph and a book. His mother swoops down on him with fury, snatching the belongings from him and hiding them away where Gerard cannot find them, refusing to tell him of her past. Soon thereafter, he begins a secret correspondence with a crippled English girl named Alice, and her letters rescue him emotionally from the bleak surroundings in his Australian home. As he matures, he falls in love with Alice, who won't let him see her for fear he'll feel sorry for her. As he learns that the book his mother has hidden away contained a ghost story written by his grandmother Viola, which Harwood presents in full, Gerard confides even more deeply in Alice. Viola's lengthy - and thoroughly creepy - stories seem like separate entities until Gerard discovers some disturbing connections. Upon his mother's death, he sets out to England to finally meet up with his almost-healed Alice and to settle family matters. What he doesn't count on, however, is that nothing, not even his own senses, can be trusted. Even if the reader solves much of the mystery before it is revealed, the ending has all the force it should, thanks to Harwood's highly visual description and talent with suspense.
Harwood does a marvelous job of embedding the mannered ghost stories within Gerard's story, and the stories-within-a-story works exceptionally well in his hands. The tales are so throat-grabbing by themselves that I forgot at times that they were but segments of the whole. The effect is truly eerie as details from them begin to surface in Gerard's plot.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I can't understand the glowing reviews September 2, 2008
Format:Paperback
Maybe it's because I'm not a horror afficianado or expert...but I just couldn't get this book done with fast enough..not because I was horribly addicted to it..no, I just wanted to get the experience over with and move onto a better book as soon as I could...

The premise? A young boy finds a mysterious picture of a relative who turns out to be his grandmother in his mother's drawer one day while snooping around and she catches him red handed. A strained relationship is the result of this little voyeuristic fancy between the mother and son. A mother who seems to have no past since moving away from her native england to Australia which is where they currently reside at the begining of the book.

The young boy, who doesn't have many friends (and it's no wonder why as you get to know how overbearing his mother is during his formative years) happens upon a mailing from a pen pal service...in turn he starts to chat up a little girl in a wheelchair...she becomes his 'invisible lover' over teh course of many years...already I could tell where that was going...BUT, I won't spoil anything..

During the course of the book, the boy (who turns into a man as the book's timeline progresses) discovers more about the woman in the photograph and finds excerpts of her old ghost stories that she had published during her lifetime..

This is where I have a major problem with the book..there's several instances where these entire short stories are featured. I have no problem with that. What I had a problem with is that only one story really had ANYTHING to do with the main story of the book. The rest had nothing to do with the boy's story or fleshing out the character of the woman in the photograph whatsoever..
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Good stories in one big good story.
This book is a really good read for Halloween. It is an easy read. I could not put it down. In the end, you were wondering whether the protagonist is a complete idiot or a genius. Read more
Published 29 days ago by Barbara
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting ghost story....
....with a strange end to it... I hoped for a little bit more about the ghost ...why...and how ...but I only felt that the ending was rushed....
Published 1 month ago by Monica
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting story.
This is the second book by John Harwood I've read and I enjoy his writing style. He has a very unique way of intricately and slowly revealing plot points and character traits that... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Nikki Hawkins
5.0 out of 5 stars I love it
Great plot. Superior writing technique. Enthralling suspense.
Published 3 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect read!
A page turner. Loved the uncanny atmosphere and its Victorian flavour. It reminded me of Wilkie Collins. If you love a good ghost story this book is a must. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Tokugawa
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
one of my favorite books. keeps you guessing and definitely not formulaic
Published 4 months ago by Thomas Z. Moore
2.0 out of 5 stars Not my kind of read.
Just was not what I expected
Published 4 months ago by kfinn
4.0 out of 5 stars Comparing John Harwood to Wilkie Collins
Gerard, the protagonist, has a secretive pen pal, a mother who will not discuss her past and a great-grandmother who wrote ghost stories....one of which apparently came true. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Ken
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant!!
Stories within stories...page after thrilling page, puzzle pieces all around you....this book is brilliant! There wasn't a moment when I felt bored. Read more
Published 5 months ago by MommaMia
3.0 out of 5 stars curious little book that was a fun light read
Interesting read. Drawn-out story with a lot of information revealed in a sudden flood at the very end. Still not sure how I feel about the ending.. Read more
Published 5 months ago by C. Filson
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