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The Ghost Writer Hardcover – July 5, 2004

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (July 5, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151010749
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151010745
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (194 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,428,849 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews 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.

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Customer Reviews

I great book to read, good mystery with some twists in it!
Anna Voyles
I love Victorian ghost stories and I loved THE GHOST WRITER even more.
Nina Auerbach
I enjoyed the stories but was a little disappointed in the ending.
Avid Crafter

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

189 of 198 people found the following review helpful By SGW on July 20, 2004
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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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 By Debbie Lee Wesselmann TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 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 By Matthew Schiariti on 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, 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 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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