October 12, 2009

Review: The Ghost Writer

The Ghost Writer
by John Harwood

Gerard's mother is a woman with many fears and many secrets; because of it, Gerard lives a very sheltered life. His only act of rebellion is writing to a penpal, Alice, a paraplegic living in England. Soon the two are madly in love over their years of correspondence. But Alice has secrets of her own. She will not send Gerard a picture of herself. Nor is she ever around to meet him when he travels from his home in Australia. But soon Gerard must confront his family history and the woman he loves to unravel the lies that are the only truth he's ever known.

I'm trying to decide if I should start with the good or the bad. How about a sandwich effect?

The bad: that cover. It's not creepy so much as unattractive, which is fitting in some ways but mostly not.

The good: the stories within the story. I always love a story that tells many littler stories, especially if they are fairy tales or, in this case, ghost stories. I think these littler stories were the best parts of the book.

The bad: the confusion. The final story was long and interrupted and very similar to the main story so that the line between the two became very blurry. Actually, I believe this was done on purpose but my little brain hurt from the effort of sorting the two out. Then, elements of the other two ghost stories crept in. By the end I didn't know if I was up or down.

The good: it gave me the willies. As you read the little ghost stories and you start sensing that things aren't right with the characters, you do become scared of all the little sounds and shadows in your house. I reverted back to my fear of mirrors while I was reading it. Harwood built the suspense before he did anything freaky with the story. Clever.

The bad: overly descriptive. As the English Manor that is at the heart of the bigger story (and one of the littler ones) is described, all the furniture is placed in it's proper corner, all doors are put just so in the walls, all four floors are given their own blueprint, or so it seemed. My eyes glazed over. And the physical description of "the machine" was too complicated, though the explanation of what it actually was and how it was used was very interesting. But talking about pieces of metal shaped like A with tubular glass bulbs projecting out of point B wasn't at all helpful.

The bad: the ending. So I am really, really good at figuring out the endings of mysteries. All those years watching Matlock, Diagnosis Murder, and Law and Order taught me a thing or two. One of the things I learned was that everything in a story has a purpose. Did the murder victim's neighbor speak? They have some kind of useful information or they are the killer. Did the camera linger a little longer on a certain scene? There is a clue in that shot. First you gather your suspects and your suspicions and then you start eliminating them. But this book didn't do that. Gerard considered every possibility, no matter how ridiculous and threw them all out and gathered them all back up again. By the end there were so many outrageous theories running to and from that it was hard to pick which one to stick with. I believe this to be a sign of a poorly plotted mystery. It's kind of like when some poor schmuck calls you to solicit money over the phone. Instead of telling you simply what they have to offer and give you a chance to say yes you need that service or no you don't, they will bombard you with words. They will throw out compliments and act like your best friend from college. When they feel resistance they will ask you stupid questions like "don't you want to save money?" or "you honestly can't afford just $10 to join our gym?" They figure if they can keep you on the phone longer then you are more likely to give them your money. That is what this book does. It bombards you with ideas, making the ridiculous sound plausible and the logical seem unrealistic to disguise the fact that the answer is clear from somewhere in the middle. tsk tsk What a disappointment.

It looks like the bad outweighs the good but I will say that the good is really good and the bad is only partially bad. Like I said, I think the author accomplished what he set out to do, that is, making the reader as dazed and confused and second guessing their every idea as Gerard was. I just didn't like being dazed and confused. Your mileage may vary.

One Word Review

Matlock, you ruined me for mysteries.

Anyone remember Puck? He's the poppet I won in the original RIP Challenge. He stands sentry while I read, especially when I read ghost stories for the RIP Challenge.

Speaking of which, this makes the first book read (finally!) for the RIP IV Challenge. It also counts for the Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge since it has been lingering on my book shelf for over six months. I'm all about multitasking.


Nicole said...

The one I read turned out be okay. Too many stories within stories. I loved it at first but by the end it got to me.

bermudaonion said...

Since I'm not crazy about getting scared and this book is just okay, I think I'll skip it.

Zibilee said...

Your experience with this book sounds a lot like mine. I thought the stories embedded within the main story were excellent, but I really didn't like the ending. You described it perfectly, there was just too much going on there and too many ideas put forth. I did end up liking the book, but I thought it was very uneven.

3m said...

I've wondered about this one because I've seen some raves about it. I checked it out from the library but returned it because other books were calling my name. Maybe next fall (unless I read some more so-so reviews).