The Ghost


Robert Harris




Date Reviewed:

February 16, 2008

rated The Ghost by Robert Harris as a 3 star novel, because for an average novel, it is pretty good. But to tell the truth, I was disappointed. I really enjoyed Harris' other books - Imperium and Pompeii, and I did not find The Ghost to be nearly as good those novels.

The Ghost is the tale of a ghost writer (I can't remember the character's name, perhaps he isn't given one? The story is told in first person.) who is hired to write the memoirs of Adam Lang, a former prime minister of Britian. Lang is obviously meant to be Tony Blair. Adam Lang has led the British into a foolish war in the Middle East, allying Britain with the United States despite the absence of any rational reason for the fighting. Now Lang has retired to Martha's Vineyard, where he is expected to earn a huge cash advance on his biography. Unfortunately, Lang's original biographer has perished under mysterious circumstances (he fell overboard and drowned riding the ferry to Martha's Vineyard) and our hero, an experienced ghost writer, is rushed in to the job to meet the publishing deadline.

Naturally, the more the ghost writer learns, the more curious some events in Adam Lang's life seem - is Lang inventing stories, or does he genuinely not remember those events - because what Lang tells the ghost writer does not always match the news accounts. Equally perplexing is Lang's wife. Further adding to the suspense is the discovery that the body of the previous writer washes ashore far away from the ferry route. And amongst the notes of that previous ghost writer is some cryptic, unsettling remarks. Naturally, the ghost writer investigates.

Meanwhile, a sensational media story breaks that finds Adam Lang accused of war crimes. It turns out he authorized some citizens of the Middle East to be captured and tortured - but unfortunately, these suspected terrorists died while in captivity. Robert Harris shows us the inside household strategizing as Lang and his cronies plot how to respond to the allegations. It is a cynical viewpoint, manipulation of public perception is everything, truth is not a concern.

The suspense ramps up as the ghost writer continues his investigation into Lang's past. Unfortunately, for me, this "thriller" aspect of the novel didn't seem plausible, despite the high political stakes involved. When the ghost writer does decipher the biggest clue left by his predecessor, it seems contrived.

This is not Harris' best work; he is an expert novelist, so this isn't a bad book either. I just liked his previous books so much better. This book feels like it was written primarily as an attack on Blair, rather than to tell a good story. I believe Blair's behavior does require some explanation (why DID Blair agree to Bush's war when he knew that Bush was fabricating the justification for the war??) but I don't think this novel is a good way to ask that question.