Monday, July 1, 2013

Review: The Ghost Writer

Book Review: The Ghost Writer by John Harwood

Things to know up front...

Recommended to: horror fans, thriller fans

Rating: 7/10

Setting: Australia and England

  • Some sexual content including mild sexual fantasies and a couple of sex scenes that are reasonably inexplicit since they come from the view of someone walking in on the whole ordeal.
  • A substantial amount of swearing, including the use of the f-bomb (if I'm remembering correctly).
  • Mild violence that is made to seem worse by sheer creepiness.
  • No significant alcohol/drug use.
  • Overall, I'd recommend that this only be read by mature individuals. While nothing is all that explicit, the sexual content and the violence are further marred by the horror of the story and are pretty darn disturbing. 
Description (not mine): Viola Hatherley was a writer of ghost stories in the 1890s whose work lies forgotten until her great-grandson, as a young boy in Mawson, Australia, learns how to open the secret drawer in his mother's room. There he finds a manuscript, and from the moment his mother catches him in the act, Gerard Freeman's life is irrevocably changed. What is the invisible, ever-present threat from which his mother strives so obsessively to protect him? And why should stories written a century ago entwine themselves ever more closely around events in his own life? Gerard's quest to unveil the mystery that shrouds his family, and his life, will lead him from Mawson to London, to a long-abandoned house and the terror of a ghost story come alive.

Let me begin with a disclaimer: I do not often read from the horror genre, so if you're looking for an opinion from a well-cultured horror critic, do not look here. I repeat do not look here.

Also: I'm going to use the words "horror" and many forms of "creepy" several times because I don't have the energy to tap my inner thesaurus, and you will never understand just how sorry I am about that.

That being said, I do think I'm qualified enough to give the definitive opinion that this book is mega creepy. The first few pages alone had me jittery and freaked out, even though they were simply benign descriptions of Gerard's home life. I credit this partially to reading it in a room that has a wall of mirrors and two terrifying old portraits after watching three episodes of "Hannibal" right in a row, but I think the majority of the credit belongs to Harwood, whose writing is absolutely a thing of wonder. I don't think I've ever come across something quite like it. The first person flows beautifully, well-written, but not too grand, and the style itself immediately launches you into the perfect atmosphere for a horror story, somehow managing to make you feel unsettled and edgy even during the most mundane parts.

Even more impressive than the overall narrative is the insertion of Viola's stories, clearly written by Harwood, but of such a different (though still hair-raising) style that I had to seriously consider whether or not these were actually established works. These stories lend the novel a double-layer of creepy factor, as well as an air of mystery as you try to figure out the relation to Gerard's own journey. 

Unfortunately, there was one major flaw in the book: the climax. This, and this alone, is the reason that three points were knocked from my rating. Not only was it predictable, but it wasn't even all that frightening. In fact it was merely textbook, giving off the feeling of a cheap scare instead of the creative and subtle make-your-skin-crawl-kind-of-creepy that the rest of the book used. Honestly, everything leading up was just so gorgeous, so perfectly shiver-worthy, and then that hot mess happened. Ugh. Words will never describe how disappointing it was. 

Overall, I still recommend The Ghost Writer. Even though I felt underwhelmed by the ending, this certainly is not a bad book, and it certainly still deserves your attention, especially to the amazing writing (have I mentioned enough that I liked the writing?). I sincerely hope that you'll pick it up and enjoy!

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