Review – The Ghost Writer by John Harwood

the ghost writerOne came true… (page 350)

Gerard Freeman grew up in Australia, but his heart was always in Staplefield, England, the childhood home of his mother.  She tells and retells the story of her childhood, until one fateful afternoon she suddenly stops after she catches Gerard snooping in her room.  There he had found a manuscript entitled The Seraphina.  He’s sure it is written by his great aunt, but his mother won’t speak of it.  Around this time, a letter arrives from Alice, a girl in England, through a company called Penfriends International.  They continue their correspondence through adulthood and into his continued search for the truth about Staplefield and his mother’s past.

I wanted to like this book so much.  The concept is fascinating – a woman writes a ghost story and it comes true.  Only we don’t know who the writer is and which story came true.  There’s history and present day and mysterious women!  It should be a recipe for success, but something about this novel fell short.  First, I found the sections of the gothic novels written by Viola to be too long and not very interesting.  I was much more interested in Gerard’s story.  I know that the ghost stories were integral to the plot, and I could certainly appreciate them by the end, but slugging through them didn’t do anything for the story.  The first quarter of the book was fascinating and intriguing.  The middle section of the book was, for me, very boring.  It picked up toward the end, but not enough to be redeeming.

I thought the focus and structure for the story that Harwood was telling was all wrong.  I would have much rather been in the present with Anne and Phyllis, than reliving everything through flashbacks and what Gerard finds out.  In this sort of flashback method, the characters are horribly flat.  We never get to fully know Gerard because he’s too involved in the past.  We never really get to know Anne and Phyllis’s motivations because Gerard is telling their story through what he has pieced together.

I think another problem I had with this novel was that on some level, I guessed what was going to happen.  There were some sections that remained a surprise, but the big shocker at the end was really obvious to me.  Did anyone else feel this way?  Then there was the feeling at the end that everything just ended.  No resolution.  The psychological damage done to Gerard by the end of the novel is something that could have turned this novel around.  What does he do with his new found knowledge?  Does he go mad?  Does he follow in his family’s footsteps?

I was disappointed with this novel.  I don’t think I can recommend it.  It wasn’t awful, but it just wasn’t enjoyable for me.  I finished it, which is something, and I don’t necessarily regret reading it.


Also reviewed by:

S. Krishna’s Books
somewhere i have never travelled
So Many Books

7 thoughts on “Review – The Ghost Writer by John Harwood

  1. That’s a shame! I’d heard some good things about this book, and was looking forward to reading it. Have you read The Seance? I read it earlier in the year and really enjoyed it-hence the reason for keeping an eye out for this one.

  2. I really enjoyed this one, even though I definitely saw the twist coming early on. I loved it for the short ghost stories included in the text, most of all. 😀

  3. Hmm. I enjoyed this book a lot, although I can totally see this perspective, too. I think maybe I was enjoying it too much to notice how disappointing the end was, and I agree, some of the ghost stories in the middle were a bit long. And I still wonder what the point was of some of them. It was confusing, but I still enjoyed it. It had good atmosphere. I would have liked a *little* more clarity, upon retrospect.

  4. I disagree. I thought this was a great book, and a fine example of gothic literature. It’s pretty clear which tale is the “one that came true” – Anne’s diary entries tell us this – and the other stories, though somewhat murky in their connections to Gerard’s family history, are interesting and stand up in their own right. I suspected the twist at the end, but I still appreciated the twists and turns, though I am a “willing suspension of disbelief” reader. Anyway, you should still give Harwood a chance and read his latest novel The Seance. It’s much more creepy than his first and the twists are much more gratifying.

    1. Sarah: I am always willing to give an author another chance! Take one of the more recent books I’ve read, The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff. I really wasn’t a fan of the first book of Ebershoff’s I read, but really enjoyed this one. I’m looking forward to reading another book by Harwood in the future, especially The Seance because I’ve heard from several sources it’s much better than The Ghost Writer. Thanks for your opinion!

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