Review: The Ghost Writer by John Harwood

Ghost WriterThe Ghost Writer by John Harwood
Publication: Mariner Books (June 1, 2005), Paperback, 384 pages / ISBN 0156032325
Genre: Horror
Find @ Amazon or IndieBound
Challenges: R.I.P. IV (#1)
Read: September 2009
First sentence: I first saw the photograph on a hot January afternoon in my mother’s bedroom.

In one sentence: If you scare easily, better read this in the daytime.

I said to Kat Meyer on Twitter that The Ghost Writer was like a New England gothic/ghost story set in Australia/England, and I still think that’s true. I happen to adore New England gothic/ghost stories, so this book was a good fit for me right at the start. I don’t think I was expecting to be so scared when I read it, however.

Summary from Amazon:

Growing up in a small Australian town, Gerard Freeman loves to hear his mother talk about her idyllic childhood in an English country manor. But she swears that she will never return to England, and refuses to tell him what happened to her family, though she is clearly terrified of some invisible yet ever-present threat. One hot afternoon, he waits until she is napping, then creeps into her bedroom to break open the drawer that’s always locked, the one that he hopes holds all her secrets. . . .

Twenty years later, Gerard has not left home – he works as a librarian – but he lives for just two things: his English penfriend Alice, for whom he yearns with all his heart, and the ghost story he found in his mother’s drawer all those years ago. Written by his great-grandmother Viola, it hints at the terrible crime that haunted his mother, and, finally, destroyed her. And as Viola’s chilling tales lead him to London, Gerard realizes that the stories might hold the key to finding Alice as well as unveiling his family’s mystery – or are they leading him directly to the untimely death they seem to foretell?

I’m not really scared of things like zombie or demons, but ghosts scare the crap out of me. Doesn’t matter if it’s books, movies, or just someone telling me a scary story like Bloody Mary: if I get ghosts into my head I get freaked out big time. Head under the covers freaked out. Stay away from mirrors and creaky floors freaked out. So, I’m not sure if this book is actually as scary as I thought it was, but I do know I had to take a break for a few days and read another book before I could continue this one!

I really loved the writing in The Ghost Writer. Even when nothing was really happening, like in the beginning when Gerard talks about his mother and his home, a feeling of something-isn’t-right kept coming up on me through the writing. It’s the same kind of feeling I get from Poe’s stories, or from a Lovecraft story. Very creepy, and very effective.

The book is divided up into two parts: the main narrative, with Gerard and his story, and the short stories written by his grandmother that are sprinkled throughout Gerard’s narrative. Gerard’s narrative is very well written and it’s what got me hooked into the book in the first place, but it’s his grandmother’s stories that scared me the most and I think sometimes they’re even more interesting than Gerard’s story is.

The ending, however, is purely Gerard’s narrative, and it’s even freakier and scarier than the rest of the book was. It’s a great ending, although maybe a little abrupt (kinda like when a villain spews out his master plan to the good guy so the story will wrap up neatly and quickly), and I won’t say anything more about it lest I ruin it for you. Just know this: if you have trouble making it through the book because of one reason or another, the ending is entirely worth getting to. BIG, big twist. And SO awesome.

If you need a good book to scare you this Halloween, I don’t think you can do better than The Ghost Writer. I suppose it might help if you’re a big scaredy-cat like I am, but I think everyone can be spooked by something in this book. It’s that good, and it’s that creepy!

What book has scared you lately?

Get your own copy from Amazon or your favorite indie bookstore.

Other reviews: Musings of a Bookish Kitty | S. Krishna’s Books | Melody’s Reading Corner | So Many Books | A Striped Armchair

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0 thoughts on “Review: The Ghost Writer by John Harwood”

  1. the cover alone is freaking me out! i have to put it on my request list at the library–i love a good scare and it’s usually difficult to translate horror on to the page. sounds like harwood did a great job! thanks for reviewing a book i might have otherwise missed. 🙂

  2. This sounds like it might be good! Ghosts don’t really scare me too much (unless it’s a really scary story) but zombies really freak me out. I haven’t read a scary story in quite awhile so I may have to see if the library has this…

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