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The Ghost Writer

(Zuckerman Bound #1)

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  9,854 ratings  ·  743 reviews
When talented young writer Nathan Zuckerman makes his pilgrimage to sit at the feet of his hero, the reclusive master of American Literature, E. I. Lonoff, he soon finds himself enmeshed in the great Jewish writer's domestic life, with all its complexity, artifice and drive for artistic truth. As Nathan sits in breathlessly awkward conversation with his idol, a glimpse of ...more
Paperback, 179 pages
Published 2005 by Vintage (first published 1979)
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Catherine MUCH less than you'd think, considering Roth's Portnoy's Complaint.

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Average rating 3.82  · 
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mark monday
Jul 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
the boy ghost-writes the story of a girl's life. he turns her into a lure, a mystery, a travesty, into the best way to illustrate his Jewishness, the best way to thumb his nose at his parents and all the adults who would dare condescend to him. the boy is a writer, one who has yet to experience life. he doesn't create a story, he transcribes it. except for the story of the girl! that's all him, his projection onto her. he creates a narrative for the girl that barely takes the girl into considera ...more
David Schaafsma
Jul 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read Roth when I was in my late teens and early twenties, and only returned to reading him in recent years. I thought The American Trilogy was amazing, as was The Plot Against America. The Ghost Writer is the first of ten books narrated by the autobiographically-oriented narrator Nathan Zuckerman, and first in the four-book Zuckerman Bound series. It depicts young short story writer Nathan visiting his literary hero I. E. Lonoff (supposedly a combination of Bernard Malamud and Henry Roth, two ...more
Dec 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
How did this not win the Pulitzer? How has Roth not won a Nobel? This was one of the most brilliant works of art I've ever encountered. Far and away, the best book I've read all year.

This is the type of book I always hope to encounter when I read fiction. Beautiful sentences, powerful dialogue, the kind of character tension that causes a reader to nearly explode. There were times I couldn't believe I was reading. It felt as if I were deposited into a farmhouse in the Berkshires, observing from
Jan 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
“I know the kind of man I am and the kind of writer. I have my own kind of bravery, and please, let’s leave it at that.”
― Philip Roth, The Ghost Writer


I've read a ton of Roth, but have yet to really engage the Zuckerman series. The Ghost Writer is book one in the four book cycle Zuckerman Bound:

1. The Ghost Writer (1979)
2. Zuckerman Unbound (1981)
3. The Anatomy Lesson (1983)
4. The Prague Orgy (1985)

It is hard to engage some of the more specific reasons WHY I loved this book -- without giving a
Ryan Chapman
Dec 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I forgot how thrilling Roth can be. His books contain such a subtle, building power that hits about two-thirds the way through. (In particular I remember the eureka! moment with The Human Stain when its ideological weight revealed itself.)

I don't want to get too much into the story, as the less a reader knows going in the better. Let's just say it's about young Nathan Zuckerman making a pilgrimage to the farmhouse of his idol, a man names Lonoff. The novel is really about what must be sacrifice
Oct 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bitchin
A friend of mine has recently broken up with his girlfriend, and I was telling him yesterday that it’s, y’know, not always a bad thing, that sometimes two people are simply not suited to each other. Those are hardly profound words, I know, but they started me thinking about an ex of mine. The girl and I, it’s fair to say, near-hated each other. I like to think neither of us were/are bad people; it was just that there was something about our personalities that did not mesh, that meant that we cou ...more
Connie G
Oct 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Nathan Zuckerman, a young short story writer hoping for a mentor, visits established writer E.I. Lonoff. Over a twenty-four hour period several conflicts arise showing the struggle between a writer's devotion to his craft, and the loyalty he feels toward his family and his cultural identity. The older writer has devoted his whole life to his writing while ignoring his own happiness and the needs of his wife.

Zuckerman has written a short story about a true event in his family's life involving a d
Jun 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: finished-in-2018
OK, so I read my Roth. Check. Haven't read him since the 80s, when I picked up Portnoy's Complain. Or maybe it was Goodbye, Columbus. One of those. Does it matter?

This one was short (not all Roths are), well-written (I'm assuming all Roths are), and a "tweener" in that I could've 3-starred it as easily as 4-starred it but the 3.5 star is broken. For one, not much happens. Young upstart writer (Zuckerman) shows up at home of famous older author (Lonoff) and falls for mysterious young groupie girl
Amanda Byrne
Apr 01, 2012 rated it it was ok
I have a feeling Roth is one of those authors you read to make yourself feel smarter and end up questioning the number of IQ points you have. For someone who's received as many awards and accolades as he has, I found this book to be, well, boring. Boy meets his idol, sees girl, wants girl. End of story. Big woo.

Maybe I missed something here, on the greater role the story plays in regards to society or some such nonsense, which is what makes me think my intelligence may not be up to the task of f
Aug 30, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction

Philip Roth first introduces his alter ego, the 23-year-old aspiring writer Nathan Zuckerman, in The Ghost Writer. It’s 1956 and Zuckerman has managed to attract the attention of his literary idol, the Jewish immigrant writer E.I. Lonoff, who lives in an isolated farmhouse in the Berkshire Mountains of New England with his wife Hope. Zuckerman pays a visit and finds himself the object of flattering attention and conversation from the Babel-esque Lonoff. (“Because I could not bring myself to utte
Mar 12, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I probably knew too much going into this story, though it's because of what I knew beforehand that I read it in the first place. If you're someone who's interested in the way writers think, you should enjoy it. Example: the narrator's lament about his imagination being lacking, that he could never invent a scene like the one he's just overheard, is both playful and serious.

It was also fun to speculate on whom Roth might be basing his fictional 'big' literary figures. The narrator, talking to his
Michael Finocchiaro
Nathan Zuckerman reminded me of Herzog a bit. This first book of the Zuckerman Bound series was funny and witty and quite ingenious with the first person narrative and the frequent flights of narrative fantasy. I fear that delving too much into the other characters would spoil the pleasure for a potential reader so let me just say that Roth here turns simple overnight story with four characters into a Calvino-esque reflection on the distance between the writer and his written subject. A quick bu ...more
A literary critic for the Chicago Tribune once wrote that "in American literature today, there's Philip Roth, and then there's everybody else." I couldn't agree more. Roth is, without doubt, my favorite writer of all time.

*4.75/5 stars*

The Ghost Writer was a 1980 Pulitzer Prize finalist, a 1980 National Book Critics Circle Award (NBCCA) finalist & a 1980 National Book Award finalist.
Jul 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
A few weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast, Slate's Culture Gabfest, and The Ghost Writer was discussed and highly praised, with one of the hosts acclaiming it as Roth's best work, so I decided to read it to see if it really were all that great.

Well, it wasn't the greatest work of fiction I've ever read, but I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Roth spins several subplots, and each is as intriguing, if not more so, than the main plot, or perhaps that is what makes the entire story
May 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Anna by: Rajeev
Shelves: my-5stars, humoresque

Lonoff sums up his life: "I wish," he said, "I knew that much about anything. I've written fantasy for thirty years. Nothing happens to me."
“I turn sentences around. That’s my life. I write a sentence and then I turn it around. Then I look at it and I turn it around again. Then I have lunch. Then I come back in and write another sentence. Then I have tea and turn the new sentence around. Then I read the two sentences over and turn them both around. Then I lie down on my sofa and think. Then
Michael Compton
Jan 01, 2020 rated it it was ok
The centerpiece of this novel is young writer Nathan Zuckerman crushing on Anne Frank, re-imagining her as a Holocaust survivor in the person of a young woman he has just met and has the hots for. It's a tour de force of writing and imagination, of which Philip Roth is certainly aware. It's also a funny and creepy idea, of which he must also be aware, but hey, the "girl" (and I use that word advisedly) is just so dang hot, he doesn't have time for all that. This is a readable and erudite book th ...more
David B
Aug 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
A young writer spends a weekend with his idol, who is a celebrated novelist, the novelist’s wife, and a mysterious young woman whom they are also hosting. Philip Roth’s short novel is beautifully written and rich with meditations on whether the writer’s responsibility to his art overrides the discomfort it may produce in the people in his life and community. Indeed, it raises the question of whether producing such discomfort may be the serious writer’s most important function. It may seem a litt ...more
Ayelet Waldman
Mar 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is my favorite of his novels, I think. Or at least it is this week.
May 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
20 Books of Summer Challenge

Book 3

THE GHOST WRITER by Philip Roth ⭐⭐⭐⭐ I came to Roth rather late and my initial experience was not great. THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA and I MARRIED A COMMUNIST won me over though. Acerbic, iconoclastic, tearing into the world that made him, challenging the norms of conservative Jewish culture, Roth continues to resonate not only about the insights he gives into the American Jewish experience but also a lesson he provides on how to write, how to distill ideas through
Eve Kay
Sep 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Roth has a real way with words, though I found that I prefered Portnoy's Complaint because of all the complaining. It seems that Roth has a real way with complaining is what I should say.
There is an air of complaining in this book since Zuckerman goes through some inner dialogue and recounts past events which cause some annoyance for him but not enough I guess for my liking.
The characters are great, odd enough for me, but I guess the build up in the middle of the story didn't seem interesting fo
Aiden Heavilin
The word that occurred to me throughout "The Ghost Writer" was competent. This is one of those books where people sit around complaining to each other about art; Gaddis can get away with it in "The Recognitions" because he can describe fingers as looking like "prehensile udders". Roth isn't quite so talented. This is a perfectly safe and dull novel in which people do very little, but everybody seems quite serious about doing it.
I first read this about two years after it was published - (1981-ish... tempus fugit). I'd forgotten all about the Anne Frank fantasy section of this book... awesome! Simple writing, but very engaging for me.

A great read if you enjoy Roth's work.
Jason Pettus
Jun 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

All right, I admit it -- I'm not the biggest fan of postmodernism, for a whole host of reasons that are sometimes related to each other, sometimes not: because of the movement's insistence, for example, that the only "true" artists are ones with advanced college degrees; because of its worship of col
robin friedman
Jul 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Ghost Writer

I had been reading the late Philip Roth's (1933 -- 2018) novels and exhausted those readily available in the local library. I paid an all-too-rare visit to the only walk-in used book store in my neighborhood, now, sadly, also gone. The book store didn't have the Roth novel I hoped to find, but I bought an inexpensive used hardback copy of this book, "The Ghost Writer" (1979) instead. It was a lucky find. I had just read Roth's novel, "Exit Ghost" (2007), written 28 years after "T
Darryl Suite
Apr 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
There's a particular section in The Ghost Writer that blew my little fragile mind. I'm both shocked and impressed that Roth decided to tackle that subject. He went there. And I can't imagine that every single person is happy with that decision. I guess Roth proved that nothing is off limits when it comes to art, which is partly one of the themes presented in this novel. Damn, that section (Chapter/Part 3) had me enraptured: there's so much to unpack there; several observations that made my eyes ...more
Conor Ahern
Feb 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook, jewish
I liked this, but it felt too short to show off Roth's brilliance. My favorites of his are the in-depth character portraits. To think what this supple mind could have done with that familial story! Oy vey.
Oct 19, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've been wanting to read Roth for a while now, after seeing my dad blow through about 14 of them in the past year, but it took me a while to get to one. Then, once I decided to read some Roth, where do you start? Out of 29 books, a Zuckerman book, a Roth book, a Kepesh book, or just one of his goodies that can stand alone? So I went with the first Zuckerman of the series of 7.

...And now that I'm done with it I really don't know what to say about it... His style kind of reminds me of Salinger:
Feb 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
This seems to be a time to get myself up to date with names that I've always admired but for some reason haven't read extensively. I'd read the later Zuckerman books (The Human Stain, etc.), but outside of that, not a whole lot of Roth. And since Cormac ain't putting out for me, I thought I'd satiate some reading urges by digging into some of million-and-six books of Roth's that I hadn't yet gotten into.

So here, the Zuckerman saga begins...

I've heard interviews with Roth where he's discussed how
Lee Klein
Oct 21, 2007 rated it really liked it
Short and quick, the E.I. Lonoff literary talk was wonderful and well done, with typical Rothian generosity and swerve, but then the Jewish identity stuff -- the heart of the book really involving the girl (plot points suppressed as not to spoil it)-- didn't really do it for me, alas -- that is, I didn't believe it. The fiction seemed obviously appended to the apparently autobiographical. A minor novel overall, therefore -- for this reader at least -- compared with the major Roth novels to come, ...more
Ben Loory
Jan 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
can't really say i'm a philip roth fan but this book took a magnificent turn around the midpoint. glad i hadn't read any reviews or spoilers; don't think i would've liked it if i'd known what was coming.
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Philip Milton Roth was an American novelist. He gained early literary fame with the 1959 collection Goodbye, Columbus (winner of 1960's National Book Award), cemented it with his 1969 bestseller Portnoy's Complaint, and has continued to write critically-acclaimed works, many of which feature his fictional alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman. The Zuckerman novels began with The Ghost Writer in 1979, and in ...more

Other books in the series

Zuckerman Bound (3 books)
  • Zuckerman Unbound
  • The Anatomy Lesson

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