The Ghost Writer
John Harwood
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Buy *The Ghost Writer* online

The Ghost Writer
John Harwood
Harvest Books
384 pages
June 2005
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Growing up in Australia with distant parents, George Freeman has been lonely most of his life, his only comfort a pen pal he corresponds with from the age of thirteen: Alice Jessell, who lives in London.

Gerard pours his heart out to Alice, his dreams and disappointments, virtually friendless but for her. Alice was crippled in an auto accident that also killed her parents; she informs Gerald from the start that they can never meet because she wants Gerard always to think of her as whole, even signing her letters "your invisible lover.

As a boy, Gerard enjoys a special closeness with his overprotective mother, but when she catches him searching through the locked drawer of her dressing table, their relationship is suddenly shattered. Clearly his mother is tormented by her own private demons, at times unhinged by the simplest statements. But Gerard has discovered a manuscript, written by the mysterious V.H., and a photograph of a beautiful woman.

Living in a house of secrets, the boy is now more isolated than before, his mother never acknowledging life before Australia and the birth of her son. Somehow the years pass and Gerard becomes a librarian, caring for his now-widowed mother until her death. Still he muses over the photograph and manuscript that are nowhere to be found.

Traveling to London in hopes of finally meeting Alice, Gerard is frustrated in his every attempt, visiting the library to while away the hours of boredom. There he comes across two more manuscripts penned by the mysterious V.H., whom Gerard believes is his maternal grandmother, Viola Hatherly. These Victorian ghost stories capture his imagination, drawing him into the author's world where reason and superstition coexist. Each story reveals another piece of the puzzle of his mother's past.

Gerard's days are unbearably banal, his persona trapped in Victorian fustiness; but it is necessary to tolerate the young man's trepidation to get to the heart of The Ghost Writer - Viola Hatherly's unnerving tales, "Serafina", "The Gift of Flight" and "The Revenant," with hints of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, a chilling foray into the shadowy crevices of superstition, betrayal and the afterlife.

In an ever more bizarre scenario, Gerard moves through parallel worlds of his own mundane existence and the eerie tales, gothic horrors that send a shiver up the spine. Trapped between past and present, fantasy and truth, Gerard clings to sanity as his imagination spins out of control. Alice is the only voice of reason, she who faithfully urges Gerard on in his mission to uncover the truth, a specter-laden nightmare crackling with evil intentions.

The Ghost Writer builds cleverly to its denouement, awakening atavistic memory and irrational fears, peopled with an ample supply of villains, cads and damsels in distress, love spurned and unrequited, betrayed and scorned. Impossible to put down until the last page is turned and then with a sigh of relief.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Luan Gaines, 2005

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