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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Ghost Writer by John Harwood

I really liked this book. This is John Harwood's first novel. His most recent novel is The Seance and I read that last week and did a review on it. I had a little confusion because there is nothing to indicate what time period you are in. If he had just added something like, "The plane flew overhead..." or "The sound of the horses as they stepped in the carriage..." would have given me a reference point. And he does go from 2008 back to 1890's so you need some period reference points.

A young teen boy living in South Australia with his parents begins corresponding with a crippled girl in England named Alice. Gerard and Alice fall in love over the years of writing to each other. Alice doesn't want Gerard to see her because she was afraid Gerard would be disappointed with her or feel sorry for her. Gerard's mother is an enigma in his life. She used to tell him stories of England. Her parents died in an accident and she and her sister lived with their Grandmother Viola and Aunt Iris. But there was something mysterious that happened and his mother refused to talk to him about it. He sneaks into her room and pries open a locked drawer to find some clues but his mother catches him and she drives him out of the room and changes her hiding place. From then on she refuses to talk about her family or England again. She loves him and becomes ever more anxious that something will happen to him. But when his father dies, Gerard decides to start saving his money to get away and go to England and see Alice whether she wants him to or not. He makes it to England for a vacation but he is disappointed and unable to find Alice. So he comes back to Australia. He goes through college and works in the library until his mother dies. Then he sells out and moves to England to find Alice and find out what happened to his mother.

Harwood used a technique that shook things up a bit for me. Grandmother Viola wrote really neat, off-the-wall stories and he intersperses them throughout the book and you learn clues from them. He also uses the letters from Alice and from Gerard at times too. It blurred the lines too much for me until I would get Grandmother Viola mixed up with Irene De Vere, Cordelia with Anne and Beatrice with Phyllis, etc. I think I should have read the book through instead of putting it down until the next day because I probably wouldn't have gotten them confused. Or, was that his intention? Nevertheless, I liked the book and would read more by Harwood.

I recommend it for everyone (although there are some slight adult things such as when Gerard tells how their letters became erotic but Harwood doesn't go into detail).

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