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The Ghost Writer by Robert Harris

Posted by RB Kollannur on July 15, 2012


Note: This review is part of a weekly book review column that I write for City Journal, an English newspaper based in Thrissur, Kerala.

Published on 07/07/2012

Publisher – Random House; Year of Publication – 2010; Pages – 400; Cost at the time of purchase – Rs. 325

Ghostwriting is a rather thankless profession. No, they don’t write for scary ghosts who drain your blood with fear. They write books for other people, but do not get credited for writing them. For example, many autobiographies these days are written by ghostwriters, not by the authors themselves. At times, they get credit with their name mentioned as a co-author, but most of the times they don’t. Well known ghostwriters include the classical composer Mozart and horror maestro HP Lovecraft. Then there are “authors” created by teams of ghostwriters – Franklin W Dixon and Carolyn Keene.

The narrator of our novel for review is one such ghostwriter. He has been drafted in the last minute to write an autobiography, on account of the previous ghostwriter ending up dead. Stepping into a dead man’s shoes is never easy, especially when it may have been the job that led to his death.

If those circumstances weren’t suspicious enough, the nature of the author makes the situation even more ominous. The author in question is a former British Prime Minister who is having to face charges of war crime. Now the narrator has been brought to a secluded island in US where he has to unravel the secrets of the premier’s past and still avoid the fate that met his predecessor.

The suspicious death of the previous ghostwriter opens up a mystery that foreshadows an ominous future for the ghostwriter. But the nature of his job forces the ghostwriter to follow his forerunner’s footsteps. The book maintains suspense till the end with the reader kept in the dark about the truthfulness of the former premier’s character.

There are other characters at play, with no love lost between the premier’s wife and his personal assistant. Both have a crucial role to play and may have had reasons to want the death of the ghostwriter. It flows like any good murder mystery, only the nature of the victim increases the necessity of a solution.

Robert Harris is better known for writing historical fiction about World War II and ancient Rome. Originally published as “The Ghost” in 2007, this book was later made into a movie in 2010 titled “The Ghost Writer” and the book was republished in that name.

Albeit fictional, the book was intended to reflect on the actions of Tony Blair and his invasion of Iraq with US. The similarity becomes even more interesting due shocking revelations at the end of the book, which too fantastic to be true, would have made a lot of actions taken by Tony Blair during his premiership appear logical.

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One Response to “The Ghost Writer by Robert Harris”

  1. […] 23/06/2012 16)   The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – Published on 30/06/2012 17)   The Ghost Writer by Robert Harris – Published on 07/07/2012 18)   The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler – Published on […]

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