LJ's Reviews > The Ghost Writer

The Ghost Writer by John Harwood
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Mar 03, 09

bookshelves: contemporary_post_1945, australia, england, male_author, horror, psychological_thriller
Read in January, 2009

THE GHOST WRITER (Psy. Horror-Gerard Freeman-Aust/England-Cont) - NR
Harwood, John – 1st book
Harcourt, 2004, US Hardcover – ISBN: 0151010749

First Sentence: I first saw the photograph on a hot January afternoon in my mother’s bedroom.

Gerard Freeman grew up in Australia with an uninvolved father and an overbearing mother who had grown up in England but, other than stories about the house, won’t talk about her family. Searching through his mother’s dresser he does find a ghost story written by his great-grandmother, Viola, which hints of tragedy in his family.

In his loneliness, he gains a English pen pal, Alice with whom he becomes so connected it is his ambition to gain his degree in library science and go to England. There he uncovers more of Viola’s stories and begins to believe his mother had left England having murdered her sister. As the stories parallel family history, Gerard is drawn further into the past to find the answers in the present.

This is another example of the book that starts so well but goes awry. I was completely drawn in at the beginning and the first ghost story made me wonder whether I was old enough to read this on my own. It wasn’t horror, but it was wonderfully, satisfyingly creepy.

After that, the stories felt forced and a bit absurd, particularly one that is a bad take-off on the Chucky movies. Gerard was a character about whom I really found I didn’t much care. You also knew, almost from the very beginning, one of the characters was not going to be what they seemed.

As the story progressed, I felt it so did in a very predictable manner to a very predictable almost ending. But when you did reach the end, . No, I didn’t forget the rest of the sentence, but am indicating that there was no end to the story unless you count four blank pages and an author who decided it would be clever to leave it up to the reader’s supposition.

Call me old-fashioned, but I really like authors who actually write the endings to their books. I actually have the next book by Mr. Harwood on its way to me, and I shall read it, but I definitely hope for it being a vast improvement over this outing.
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Comments (showing 1-22 of 22) (22 new)

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Nancy LJ, Twice before I've started books you gave a single star and found you were absolutely correct. They were terrible.I didn't even finish either. (The Curious Eat Themselves and The Broken Shore.) I think you are wrong on this one though. I found it hard to put down. Maybe it is because I'm somewhat of a ghost story virgin and have never seen a Chucky movie. While the ending didn't totally complete the story, bit did clear up a lot of questions and seemed like a reasonable ending for a ghost story.


message 2: by LJ (new) - rated it 1 star

LJ Hi Nancy, I'm glad you liked it. I certainly don't expect people to agree with me on everything.


Hannah LJ,
I have to agree with your review of The Ghost Writer. It started off very interesting, but by the end, got mired down by the wealth of additional ghost stories - many of which went no where. And the ending was so lame.



message 4: by LJ (new) - rated it 1 star

LJ Hi Hannah,

Thank you for your reinforcement and I'm sorry the book didn't hold together. It's always disappointing when a book starts well, but the author lets the reader down.


message 5: by Claire (last edited May 14, 2010 02:06PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Claire M. Absolutely did not hold together after such a stellar beginning. Also, I thought the intrusion of the "modern" (not wanting to spoil anything) completely out of left field. Talk about reaching. Poison actually would have been acceptable. I suppose we are supposed to believe that whatever happened unhinged the person it happened to, except that there is no foreshadowing of that and we are left with a WTF sensibility to the ending. Also, thirteen years stretched my credibility to the max. As the clues piled up, I began to think that the progaonist was not so much gullible as half-witted. I thought it had gorgeous language and could have been a book along the lines of Turn of the Screw, but the last third fell apart. I think part of the problem was that it did span years, and yet the main character never seemed to move beyond being, mentally, a 14-year-old boy, despite the fact that he went to college, got a job, travelled, etc., all those things that you would presuppose would mature him, but it doesn't. Argh! I hate it when a really great start turns out to be so disppointing.


message 6: by LJ (new) - rated it 1 star

LJ I agree with you completely, Claire. But then, I want every book I start to be wonderful.


Virginie I devoured this book, I could not put it down......I did not like "the Seance" as much.


message 8: by LJ (new) - rated it 1 star

LJ You and Nancy are the positives. I am glad it work for you.


Nancy It is interesting to see this flurry of comments over a year after LJ posted her original review. It reminds us that these reviews (and comments) are living on.


message 10: by LJ (new) - rated it 1 star

LJ That is one of the things I so appreciate about GoodReads. In fact, I received a comment yesterday about a book I'd read more than 5 years ago.


TheGirlBytheSeaofCortez I loved this book. I also read "The Seance" but wasn't quite as taken with that one. I felt this one ended well enough. A little abruptly, but well enough.


message 12: by LJ (new) - rated it 1 star

LJ The wonderful thing about books, and a good thing for authors, is that each has its audience. I'm always fascinated to see end-of-the-year lists where the same books appear as both people's "top" reads and others "bottom" reads.


message 13: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Hi LJ. I haven't yet read the Ghostwriter, but I thought The Seance was wonderful. I hope you enjoy it more!


Barbrey I agree it was a horrible ending. Would still give it five stars because without the ending I'd have given it six if I could!But then this my kind of story, and having done a thesis on Gothic lit I was just so delighted to see a modern day writer develop such a Victorian Gothic sensibility in a modern day book.


message 15: by LJ (new) - rated it 1 star

LJ I'm glad you liked it, in spite of the poorly done ending. I love Gothic, but this just didn't do it for me. Ah, well. Have you read Susan Hill's "The Woman in Black"?


Barbrey Yes but this one is better. I'm afraid I've run out of quality gothics to read though. Loved 13th Tale and Shadow of the wind. Don't like Kate Morten's novels. Any other suggestions? I feel like I've exhausted pretty well all the recommended ones.


message 17: by LJ (new) - rated it 1 star

LJ Good Gothics is hard. And, of course, there is a difference between Gothic romance (which I enjoy) and Gothic horror, and those that fall in the middle and include paranormal. I would consider some of Susanna Kearsley's books to have Gothic elements. Growing up, Mary Stuart and Victoria Holt were favorites. Here's an interesting link I found for Gothic Romances: http://www.gothicromanceforum.com/thr...


message 19: by LJ (new) - rated it 1 star

LJ If you're looking for good ghost stories, I love this series:
Haunted Ballad Mystery
1. The Weaver and the Factory Maid (2003)
2. The Famous Flower of Serving Men (2004)
3. Matty Groves (2005)
4. Cruel Sister (2006)
5. New Slain Knight (2007)


message 20: by LJ (new) - rated it 1 star

LJ Sorry, they're by Deborah Grabien.


message 21: by Hades-uftg (new)

Hades-uftg Tartarus Claire wrote: "Absolutely did not hold together after such a stellar beginning. Also, I thought the intrusion of the "modern" (not wanting to spoil anything) completely out of left field. Talk about reaching. Poi..."

I felt the same way. It started really well. I found the writing evocative and the premise fascinating. The 1800's-styled short ghost stories written by the protagonist's great grandma and used as a prop by the author to add atmosphere and help build the plot, didn't bother me at first. In fact, I enjoyed the first story very much. I found it fantastic as a stand-alone story. It had an authentic 1800's feel to it. The other stories didn't work for me. They became intrusive and repetitive as the narrative continued.


"Also, thirteen years stretched my credibility to the max. As the clues piled up, I began to think that the progaonist was not so much gullible as half-witted."

I kept thinking: is this guy for real? There's no way a normal person is going to buy such bull for so long; staying celibate just waiting for the moment when he could meet someone he's only talked to in letters. And how did "she" get his address to begin with? His mom changed her name and moved to some bogan-sounding place in OZ, full of snakes and millipedes. Pen pal organizations don't go looking for individuals--as far as I know. They usually advertise in some mag--my sister and I tried the pen-pal thing when we were teens. Also, his mom was supposed to contact the organisation to make sure it wasn't a sham. What happened with that? Did I miss something? Surely a woman that paranoid, wouldn't have just let it go. And why when the guy decided to find his pal, didn't he try calling the hospital and find the nurse who purportedly sent him the email?

Yeah, unfortunately, this one fell short. The ending did have the feel of one of those awful horror films.

However, this book still managed to hold my curiosity until the end so it wasn't all that bad.


message 22: by LJ (last edited Oct 20, 2013 05:41PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

LJ I love your comments and agree about the first story being a very good standalone. for me, he just really ran out of steam after that. It should have been a novella.


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