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The Ghost Writer: A Novel Paperback – March 2, 2010
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"Killers of the Flower Moon" is a twisting, haunting true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history. See more
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From Publishers Weekly
Displaying enviable versatility, Harris, who first achieved acclaim with his alternative history, Fatherland, and who more recently showed his mastery of the historical novel in Pompeii, hits one out of the park with this dark paranoid thriller. Former British prime minister Adam Lang (clearly modelled on Tony Blair) is up against a firm deadline to submit his memoirs to his publisher, and the project is dangerously derailed when his aide and collaborator, Michael McAra, perishes in a ferry accident off the coast of Marthas Vineyard. To salvage the book, a professional ghostwriter is hired to whip the manuscript into shape, but the unnamed writer soon finds that separating truth from fiction in Langs recollections a challenge. The stakes rise when Lang is accused of war crimes for authorizing the abduction of suspected al-Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan, who then ended up in the CIAs merciless hands. As the new writer probes deeper, he uncovers evidence that his predecessors death may have been a homicide. Harris nicely leavens his cynical tale with gallows humor, and even readers who anticipate the plots final twist will admire the authors artistry in creating an intelligent page-turner that tackles serious issues. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Known for Fatherland (1992), Pompeii (**** Selection Mar/Apr 2004), and Imperium (*** Jan/Feb 2007), novelist Robert Harris opens his latest work with a derisive account of the publishing business. From there, it quickly gains momentum, merging a shrewd indictment of the war in Iraq with a literate, page-turning thriller. Harris, who was once a friend of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, offers a withering, barely disguised attack on Blairs policies and his collusion with the United States in the Middle East. Some critics felt that the fictional backdrop weakened the political invective. Other complaints included some stock characters, formulaic plot points, and far-fetched twists, but most critics dismissed these as trivial and agreed with USA Today that Harris has produced "one of the most politically informed novels of the year."
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
At another level you feel drawn to the author-protagonist because of his self-deprecating humor and the acceptance of his fate, which is to be a ghost writer rather than a "real" writer. The politics of being a ghost writer, always humbly in the background, while nevertheless creating stunning works for celebrity non-authors gives insight into the mind of actual ghost-writers, whom Harris liberally quotes in each chapter.
Then of course there is a level of political analysis thinly veiled from the real world of a discredited (in Harris' mind) Tony Blair. Harris hits upon a deep sense of regret felt by many of us because of Blair's foolish entanglement with the arrogant American president in the Iraq war. As one who admired Blair's entertaining performances in Parliament (seen at home on C-Span)I can heartily share the sense of tragedy of a great man who, like Chamberlain, falls from grace by commiting a remarkable stupidity of judgment. While the Prime Minister in this story is fictional, the parallels with Blair are inescapable.
Finally, there is the plot itself, which starts off with a suspicious death, weaves its way into the private life of the fallen PM, maintains a sense of urgency and tension until the climax is revealed, in the best tradition of mystery thrillers. The value of this book is that it is much more than a thriller, without eroding the central plot.
A wholly entertaining, engrossing, and instructive book. This one immediately sent me looking for other books by this exceptional writer. None have been disappointing.
Is its main purpose to entertain us with a series of fictional events, as the vast majority of mysteries and spy thrillers seem meant to do? Or did Harris aim at persuading readers that real-life ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair was a pawn in George W. Bush's "war on terror" and became a war criminal who turned British citizens over to the CIA to be tortured? Or did Harris perhaps have some third purpose?
The novel is narrated by an unnamed and rather unpleasant and immoral young man who was hired by a New York publisher to turn the autobiography of ex-Prime Minister Andrew Lang into a readable, profitable commodity. The opening paragraph begins: "The moment I heard how McAra died, I should have walked away. I can see that now." This sounds quite ominous, and we wonder just what he heard and why it should have served as a warning to him. And we expect a fairly prompt array of answers. And just when is this "now"?
As we read the rest of this paragraph, suspense is allowed to dissipate. And suspense continues to dissipate in chapter after chapter, with the answers kept out of our reach until the final fifth of the book. Indeed, once we learn the source of the narrator's fears, we still don't learn the reason for THIS book's existence until almost the very ending. And in hindsight, if we think about such matters, we may wonder about the slowness of the story's progress and the leisureliness of the telling. Many pages are devoted to "local color" descriptions of considerable length and fairly lengthy conversations that totally lack urgency of any sort - and both of these are so frequently festooned with dozens of lengthy similes and metaphors that one at times senses the book might be in part a stylistic parody of a Ross Macdonald mystery novel.
Is this calmness and leisureliness deliberate on Harris's part? Is it his way of creating a different kind of suspense? Perhaps the unnamed narrator has been mentally damaged by shocking events so that "normal" reactions including fear and a sense of urgency to tell his tale do not pertain? And what about our knowledge "as readers" that the book's original title is THE GHOST? Does that word "ghost" have a dual meaning overarching the book (as it occasionally does within it), implying that we might be getting a story told by a person who is no longer among the living?
Even if one has already seen the movie based on this book (as I have), such questions still arise. Indeed the technical questions in that case become even more pressing, for with the movie we have no "narrator" as such who has a story to tell us. At most, with the movie (and most movies) we have some snooping disembodied "camera eye" that follows people and events without anyone aware of it, and we have no sense of the personality or mentality of the "eye." Technically the "camera eye" can tell a story with many of the same events, but it cannot and does not tell a story identical to that of this book's first-person narrator. Nor do the two works have anything like the same impacts on us.
In passing I will say that I found the film more entertaining and "easier" to absorb, partly because it was much shorter, but I also found it less plausible and far less thought provoking.
At some point in our reading of almost any book, most of us arrive at some kind of "closure" about what it was written to provide us. I do have my own views that have led me to my own answers about THE GHOST WRITER; a close friend of mine has a somewhat different set of answers. And it should be your job, if you read this book, to come up with your own answers - not mine nor anyone else's.