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Harwood, John The Ghost Writer

ISBN 13: 9780224071130

The Ghost Writer

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9780224071130: The Ghost Writer
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The Ghost Writer

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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 the Inside Flap:

A tantalizing tale of family secrets hidden in spine-tingling ghost stories -- that have started to come true

Growing up in a small Australian town, Gerard Freeman loves to hear his mother talk about her idyllic childhood in an English country manor. But she swears that she will never return to England, and refuses to tell him what happened to her family, though she is clearly terrified of some invisible yet ever-present threat. One hot afternoon, he waits until she is napping, then creeps into her bedroom to break open the drawer that’s always locked, the one that he hopes holds all her secrets. . . .

Twenty years later, Gerard has not left home – he works as a librarian – but he lives for just two things: his English penfriend Alice, for whom he yearns with all his heart, and the ghost story he found in his mother’s drawer all those years ago. Written by his great-grandmother Viola, it hints at the terrible crime that haunted his mother, and, finally, destroyed her. And as Viola’s chilling tales lead him to London, Gerard realizes that the stories might hold the key to finding Alice as well as unveiling his family's mystery – or are they leading him directly to the untimely death they seem to foretell?

Harwood’s deliciously clever debut never loosens its grip on us as it moves from Gerard's present-day detective work to the macabre world of Viola's supernatural stories, from Australia to London, from the safety of books to the terror of a ghost story come alive. Astonishingly assured, compulsively readable, The Ghost Writer shows us just how dangerous family skeletons – and stories -- can be.

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Harwood, John
Published by Jonathan Cape (2004)
ISBN 10: 0224071130 ISBN 13: 9780224071130
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