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Harlot's Ghost

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  1,894 ratings  ·  188 reviews
With unprecedented scope and consummate skill, Norman Mailer unfolds a rich and riveting epic of an American spy. Harry Hubbard is the son and godson of CIA legends. His journey to learn the secrets of his society—and his own past—takes him through the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the “momentous catastrophe” of the Kennedy assassination. All the while, Hubbar ...more
Paperback, 1168 pages
Published September 1st 1992 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published October 2nd 1991)
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Patrick King Keep reading. As is his wont, Mailer explains this in his afterwards. I can't think of any other major writer present or past who makes his process,…moreKeep reading. As is his wont, Mailer explains this in his afterwards. I can't think of any other major writer present or past who makes his process, inspirations, and techniques so available to the public. Between Advertisements For Myself, The Spooky Art and the forwards and afterwards to many of his books Mailer is very generous, explaining what he does to achieve his extremely life-like portrayals. He is also very candid about his over-reaching ambitions which more often than not were unachieved.

Mailer read voraciously a plethora of books that came out in the late 80s from former CIA agents. He then, as he always does, made everything up around characters and historical events. As he says, a novel is written day by day. Mailer claims that he found journalism much easier to write than fiction, so all of his fiction contains large elements of journalism. I have never read a better book on the day-to-day lives of spies than Harlot's Ghost. I'm only sorry he did not have the time to write Harlot's Grave as he intended.(less)
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3.87  · 
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 ·  1,894 ratings  ·  188 reviews

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Aug 01, 2018 rated it did not like it
“On a late-winter evening in 1983, while driving through fog along the Maine coast, recollections of old campfires began to drift into the March mist, and I thought of the Abnaki Indians of the Algonquin tribe who dwelt near Bangor a thousand years ago.”
- Norman Mailer, from the opening lines of Harlot’s Ghost

That opening line should have been a warning.

This is an epic novel about the history of the Central Intelligence Agency. But by all means, let us start a thousand years ago, with the Algon
Lesley Hazleton
Dec 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Mailer, check.
Too long, check.
Creaky structure, check.
Weird pseudo-psycho theorizing, check.
Obsession with buggery, check.
Tin ear for female characters, check.
Yes, brilliant. Mailer's CIA novel, through to the Bay of Pigs, Cuban missile crisis, and Kennedy assassination. 1200 pages, give or take (who's counting at this length?). No minimalism here. This man knew how to breathe deep, to write expansively, to be outrageous, to give the finger to the so-called distinctions between
switterbug (Betsey)
This post-modern novel by Mailer is inarguably the most informed novel of the CIA. This is not callow, veneered, cinema-informed CIA, or any of the "tell-all" non-fiction embellishments of CIA activity. This is a psychological study of the necessary duality of agents, teased from the central soul of the duality of humankind. Mailer has a comprehensive insider's knowledge of the structure and workings of the CIA.

Paradox lives on every layer; the characters in this fiction, other than the main ch
May 01, 2008 rated it it was ok
There's probably five or six hundred pages of brilliance in this 1300 page monster, but then there's the interminable recounting of daily intelligence minutia, the stinking heaps of bullshit psycho-theory, and the seemingly endless series of repetitive letters between two neurotics who can't get their heads out of their asses. All of which might be worth slogging through for the sake of the good parts, except when I ran out of pages to turn, the story wasn't even remotely resolved. When I read s ...more
Nov 18, 2012 rated it liked it
Oh, I could be angry right now, terribly angry, having just finished an almost 1300-page fictional tome that ends with the words "To Be Continued", but I choose not to be since I chose to hang in there with this book long after I had concluded that it would not reward in ways commensurate with its length. In that I was not mistaken. There is much about this novel of the CIA in the 50s and early 60s to like, and there is no question of Mailer's devotion to his craft and the level of research that ...more
Kurt Reichenbaugh
Sep 21, 2016 rated it liked it
Yes, I read this whole book. I remember expecting to bail out from it due to its length, but as I recall I was never bored by the novel. That said, I don't remember much of it except for the mundane details of a spy's life, a life affair and talk of buggering. The buggering portion seemed reminiscent of Ancient Evenings, which was a book I read back in the 80's. I liked Ancient Evenings also. I don't know if either book is something I would recommend to anyone now. Maybe I would recommend someth ...more
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Oct 13, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Desirée Rogers
Shelves: own, fiction

Mailer's massive novel about the CIA begins in 1983, with the narrator Harry Hubbard and his wife Kittredge on their small private island off the coast of Mount Desert Island in Maine. Soon things begin to go very wrong: one of Hubbard's colleagues makes a surreptitious visit to the island to deliver the bad news that Hugh Montague, aka "Harlot," Kittredge's former husband and Harry's godfather and CIA mentor, has turned up dead, either as a result of a sailing accident, or murder, or something
Nick Black
really magnificent; there were indeed some swaths probably best cut, but awfully few of them for 1300 pages spanning five continents. at its best it read like the saner parts of Gravity's Rainbow, but with a Mailer touch. it moves incredibly quickly for the quality of the prose. people complaining about "mailer's psychobabble" as if it's a serious theory he's advancing are really missing the point behind Kittredge and her whole development. definitely recommended for anyone who liked Ellroy's ...more
Arthur Sperry
Jul 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I am a fan of Mailer's writing, and I consider this to be his masterpiece. There is a lot of psychological complexity to the characters without ever seeming contrived or unrealistic!
Mike Childs
Oct 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have a love/hate relationship with Mailer’s books and this one more so than any other. I tried it years ago and couldn’t make it through the first 100 pages. This time I committed to the book and am happy that I persevered. It took a while as I frequently tired of his literary method of often telling the story through the exchange of letters between the two main characters. But it’s a tremendous commentary on the early days of the Cold War and how the foibles of politicians and the CIA really ...more
Sep 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book forever changed my mind on who killed Kennedy, along with Mark Lanes book Plausible Denial. This is a novel but... It is too close to the hard facts, not only on Kennedy but the Bay of Pigs and the wiretapping in East Berlin, by the CIA, who got caught in tunnels maintaining the equipment. It ends at midnight November 21 1963...
Sep 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Harlot's Ghost is a deeply flawed masterpiece. Its prodigious and incomplete nature signify all that is great and trivial about the work.

For all the post-net generations, it is difficult to comprehend the dark underbelly of US 1950-70 politics. That was the pre-market, pre-consumer era when important events that captured the US citizens' imagination and guided every smart person's ambitions were not in the financial, economic or corporate world. The Pentacle, if you will, of the US domestic poli
Arun K
Sep 01, 2007 rated it liked it
So what can you say from an erudite and complex 1300 page novel? It better finish everything it can in those 1300 pages, now doesn't it?

But no, it does not. It is possibly the quintessential novel of the last 55 years by an American author.

It is probably one of the best memoirs of a complex organization that is mired in secrecy.

It is probably one of my favorite novels that I have read.

Norman Mailer definitely surprised me. I came upon him after reading "The Gang who couldn't write straight" an
Ted Burke
Oct 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a generational saga more than anything else, the story of Harry Hubbard and his relationship with his CIA mentor, the titular Harlot. It is, I think, a brilliant mess of a novel, not unlike the projects the Central Intelligence Agency has taken on covertly, unheard of and unspoken, in order to preserve the good graces and virtue of the United States. The main message, I think, is that one cannot fight evil unless they understand exactly what evil is and are willing to be evil , unprincip ...more
Feb 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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Jan 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
The first 2/3 of this book were magnificent.

The multiple, intertwined & fluid levels of treachery realised with emotional subtlety, menace and unsettling prose left me agog with admiration and joy. Sprinkled over this magical mix was some juicy foreshadowing about the coming showdown with Castro, where Hubbard's various and engrossingly diverse mentors would surely come together in a breathless, blitzkrieg denouement.

Alas, they did not. If they had, this book could have approached what Hugh
Jan 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 03, 2012 rated it liked it
This book is over 1200 pages long and weighs over eleven pounds. Readers making it to the book's finale will, on page 1,242, find themselves greeted with the phrase "[t]o be continued." Though twenty years have elapsed since the book's publication, no additional installment has -- to my knowledge -- ever been released. It also bears noting that Norman Mailer is, according to several reputable sources close to me, very likely deceased. Given the foregoing, I have no alternative but to conclude th ...more
Jun 09, 2017 rated it it was ok
I was proud of myself for completing this massive tome. I want to say I am not opposed to reading large novels ( The Company, Fist of God, Without Remorse). However this book just drags on several hundred pages too long. Some of the real events and people in this book such as Cuban Missile Crisis, Bay of Pigs, JFK were very readable. However the hundreds of pages of letters exchanged between the protagonist and his love interest grinds the pace of this novel down. It took real effort to get thro ...more
Mar 14, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
I had to DNF this one @ page 322. I hate to do it. I love Norman Mailer. His writing is on point, his characters are well-rounded, the story is meticulously researched. I just can't finish this one. I do not care anything about the CIA or government agencies or spy rings or intrigue. I thought Mailer's writing could carry me through but it doesn't. If you love Bond-type stories or have always been interested in the inner-workings of the CIA you will likely love this novel. If you are ambivalent ...more
Apr 01, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A massive book. Highpoints include postwar Berlin and the events leading up to the Bay of Pigs. A major problem though, is that there are too many low points; too many points when I wondered why I was reading this. The entire period spent on Montevidio, as well as the psychological theory of Alpha and Omega were carried out far too long. Part of the difficulty, I suppose, is that nothing ever really happens to Hubbard. He is merely a device for recording events and does not partake in any of the ...more
Apr 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
A fascinating take on the people who spend their lives in deception and intrigue-the whole CIA Cold War spy story with great characters-Montague alias Harlot , his wife Kittredge and Harry Hubbard her lover and narrator of this tale. This novel is peppered with real names and events and historical facts including Sam Giancana, President Kennedy, Fidel Castro and Herbert Hoover to name some.Having grownup in this period of time and remembering some of the headlines I was just mesmerized and pulle ...more
Jun 29, 2017 rated it it was ok
In the winter of 2000 my senior English class was given a book list. I don't recall why. On the list was "The Executioner's Song" which caught my attention, as It was the title of a pretty big X-Men story line years before. I found it at the bookstore. More than 1,000 pages. It was intimidating, but I felt like I had to read it, especially when I learned what it was about.

It was one of the first times I read something for pretentious purposes. I loved English. I loved reading. Reading a 1,000 pa
Feb 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
I am not sure why I thought it would be a good idea to begin this monster of a book (1200 pages!) right before tech week, but for some reason I did just that. Instead of taking the expected 10-12 days, I’ve been slogging through for 16. I hesitate to blame the novel (because it is good), but I also cannot claim to have quite the attention span that I would normally devote to this (sleep deprivation will do that). On the other hand, our show has turned out better than I expected and (for all of y ...more
Mar 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
in a lot of ways, this history of the CIA (1955-1963) rendered via a first person vehicle and filtered through a psychoanalytical lens is mailer's late career highpoint, rivaling anything that may have won him fans as a young writer or a pulitzer as a middle aged writer. it's a micro focused treatise on duality and the inherent deception that lives within us, blown up and printed on the fabric of American history. The Bay of Pigs. JFK. Mailer uses fiction and fact to get to the heart of what fee ...more
Sep 24, 2018 rated it liked it
I'm at the end of this 1000+ page journey... Well-written, it's a challenging read and has many virtues. The longer narratives, like the Bay of Pigs, are superbly written. It was a long trip, however, that ended weakly with no reasonable conclusions. It also leaves the introductory chapters seemingly unresolved. Presumably Mailer's intention was to generate the inference that the CIA is eternally enmeshed in a froth of competing factions. The CIA appears to be total chaos - its business conducte ...more
Brian Byrne
Nov 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If I had bothered to do any research, I would not have read this book. It's 1300 pages (not something you notice in an e-book purchase) and it is part one of a two part epic that Norman Mailer never finished. But if I had done the research, and not read the book, that would have been a mistake. It's a fascinating look into the CIA in the critical post WWII period. His research is astounding, and the interplay of the fictional characters with meticulous details of real world events is captivating ...more
Patrick King
Jul 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Harlot's Ghost is I think the best book I've ever read on the education, evolution and career of an American spy. It is so amazingly detailed that it took Mailer, himself, at the end to remind me it really is fiction. After The Executioner's Song and Oswald's Tale Mailer has developed a voice tentative enough to add great authenticity to what he's writing. Harlot's Ghost is a masterful achievement.
Ian Cattanach
Oct 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
He did not know he wouldn't finish it. After a 1300 page marathon that took him seven years I'm sure he wanted a decade or two break. In old age many do not have the energy to produce a sequel of this stature. We know what happens though. He finds Harlot, they make up, and Harry goes off into a form of exile. Haha.
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Norman Kingsley Mailer was an American novelist, journalist, essayist, poet, playwright, screenwriter, and film director.

Along with Truman Capote, Joan Didion, and Tom Wolfe, Mailer is considered an innovator of creative nonfiction, a genre sometimes called New Journalism, but which covers the essay to the nonfiction novel. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize twice and the National Book Award once.
“Bright was the light of my last martini on my moral horizon” 22 likes
“I cannot bear that chirpy Bobby Kennedy, always building his beaver's nest with a few more facts. He needs to look into the abyss.” 7 likes
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