Friday, October 16, 2015

The Ghost Writer: Review

Well...that took much longer than anticipated to finish. John Harwood's debut novel, The Ghost Writer, started off really well. Gerard Freeman and his family live in the fictional town of Mawson, Australia. When Gerard Freeman is young he sneaks into his mother's room to open a drawer that has been locked as long as he can remember. He's dying to know what's inside...but all he finds is a picture of a beautiful woman he has never seen before. His mother catches him red-handed and launches into a tirade and whirlwind of beating that he'll never forget. From that moment on the few stories she's told him of her childhood in far-away England stop. She refuses to discuss England or her childhood home of Staplefield or her grandmother Viola who raised her. Gerard has never been told much about his English heritage and now it seems he'll not find out more. His mother becomes more secretive than ever, telling her son that she is only trying to protect him. But from what? Or who?

Not long after this he begins a "penfriend" relationship with Alice Jessel through a penpal service advertised at his school. Alice is his age and has been crippled ever since an accident that killed her parents. She wants to know everything about Gerard and asks for pictures of him and his family, but won't send him pictures in return because she doesn't want him to think of her as crippled. The friendly letters turn romantic...from "penfriends" to "invisible lovers" and Gerard is determined to make his way to England to see Alice. She doesn't want to see him unless the doctors can find a way to cure her so she can walk again.

Interspersed in the narrative are ghost stories written by Gerard's great-grandmother. As he grows to adulthood, he finds more and more stories and pieces of stories that showcase Victorian ghosts and ghouls. But there seems to be more to these stories than just a peek at Viola's Victorian mind. When Gerard finally makes a trip to England, he starts investigating his past and the number of incidents in his family history and present life which mirror the events in Viola's ghost tales is disturbing. And what the stories seem to be telling him about his mother's past is very disturbing indeed. Gerard efforts to solve the mysteries of the past will involve him in a mysterious present.

I enjoyed the first few chapters of The Ghost Writer very much. It set a very convincing stage of a frightened woman doing her best to shelter her son from some unknown danger. It was also convincing that Gerard would be curious--both about his family history and about England. Alice provides a link to the land of his heritage. I also enjoyed Viola's ghost stories. In fact, I think I could have read a whole book of just those stories. But Harwood lost me at about the mid-point. Jumping back and forth between the stories and Gerard's present was confusing. The connections made at the end seemed far-fetched and conclusion did not make any sense to me at all. I don't want to give the ending away--but I cannot figure out how the person behind everything could have stage-managed it all. There's no way s/he could have known where Gerard was. No one knew his mother had gone to Australia. It just doesn't make sense. 

I'm giving this three stars--for a good intro, good ghost stories, and the promise of a really good over-all plot that just didn't quite work for me. Others have rated this quite highly, so your mileage may vary.  ★★

1 comment:

fredamans said...

I'm not sure I'd get into this one. Great review!