Friday, July 16, 2010

Book Review: The Ghost

The Ghost by Robert Harris

The story begins (narrated by the author/ghostwriter) just has he is being offered a job to write the memoirs of the former prime minister of Britain. He usually writes fluff memoirs of athletes or celebrities, so he is immediately drawn to this serious project which will become a part of history. There's just one thing, instead of starting from scratch, he is to continue the writing started by the first ghostwriter (McAra)- who died presumably by accident. The offer is too good to turn down, world politics, great paycheck, all sounds very exciting until he discovers more about his predecessor's death, and now he too may be in danger of washing up on shore.

The moment I heard how McAra died, I should have walked away. I can see that now. (1st line of book)

Usually delegated to the background in his story writing, this time the ghost finds himself immersed in international politics, war crimes, espionage, and danger. Daily revelations about the actions of the prime minister are coming out and being reported on the news. The writer, who has been instructed to finish the book within a month, is under great pressure from the publisher who is ecstatic with the escalation in current events surrounding the prime minister, which will no doubt boost sales. But the greatest pressure is in trying to stay alive and away from all the people who want him and his book's secrets revealed - or hidden away forever.

This is a real page-turner, hard to put down, the story goes very quickly. Even after all the drama plays out (or you think that is all) and the book is published, an even bigger surprise awaits you at the end. I definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a good read.

In addition to the mystery/thriller story, there was also an underlying story that I found interesting, the profession of ghostwriting.

Of all the advantages that ghosting offers, one of the greatest must be the opportunity that you get to meet people of interest. ~Ghostwriting by Andrew Crofts

Robert Harris, the author, quotes from a ghostwriting handbook, Ghostwriting by Andrew Crofts. At the beginning of each chapter of The Ghost there is a quote from this handbook which I found added a lot to the story, helping me to understand what the ghostwriter was trying to achieve and the process used in writing someone else's story.

Ghostwriters (or ghosts) must extensively interview their clients and try to glean as much information as possible, searching lost memories and feelings, trying at the same time to understand the reasons for the client's actions, so when the story is written it sounds genuine.

I have often been told by subjects that by the end of the research process, they feel as if they have been in therapy. ~Ghostwriting by Andrew Crofts

The ghost is not given any glory for his work, is not listed as an author of the book, and is not invited to the book launch parties. It is a thankless job, but hopefully the ghost is paid enough to make it all worth it (in this story he is paid $250,000).

If you are going to be the least bit upset not to see your name credited or not to be invited to the launch party then you are going to have a miserable time ghosting altogether. ~Ghostwriting by Andrew Croft

The reason I went in search of this book is that it has been made into a movie,  Ghost Writer. We saw a preview for this movie a while ago, it looked like it would be pretty good, and we kept waiting for it to come out at the local theatre, but it never did. It is now scheduled to come out on DVD on August 3rd.

Now that I know the story, I am looking forward to seeing the movie (and see how different it will be). In case the movie is bad, at least it has some redeeming qualities - Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor... will keep you posted.


Betsy from Tennessee said...

Great review, Susan.... People LOVE Ghost stories --and have for years and years.... The movie probably is not nearly as good as the book --which is usually the case.

Have a good weekend.

Andrew Crofts said...

I think you will enjoy the film. It is pretty faithful to the book, with a few teaks for dramatic reasons, and gives a chillingly accurate picture of what a ghostwriter's life is like and why we love doing it.

Andrew Crofts author "Ghostwriting"