three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
13-Nov-Dec-2004
user_rating: 
0

A-GhostWriterFirst time novelist Harwood spins a delicious tale of supernatural intrigue: Gerard Freeman is a lonely Australian adolescent who finds a secret panel in his mother’s bedroom drawer. Inside, he discovers a weathered photograph of a mysterious woman and a journal that contains a ghost story written by his great-grandmother. When Gerard’s tightly wound mother catches him, she beats him and forbids him to speak of his unveiled treasures. At the same time, Gerard begins corresponding with a British paraplegic orphan who soon becomes his pen "lover." These intersecting stories unfold over the next two decades as ghost stories have a way of coming true, and Harwood keeps readers guessing at the book’s secrets until its gripping conclusion.
Harcourt . 369 pages. $25. ISBN: 0151010749

Milwaukee Jrnl-Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s the vibrational quality of the unknown that makes this novel a page-turner, and at the last, Gerard is struck, as many often are, by the deadly realization that few are as capable of hate and revenge as a scorned family member." Catherine Parnell

San Jose Mercury News 4 of 5 Stars
"John Harwood’s novel is so cunningly plotted and so smartly written that I was happy to swallow its hokum whole—though I felt a little sheepish about it later, for there’s an awful lot of hokum in it to swallow. … But it works because you can’t help being dazzled by Harwood’s inventiveness, and especially by his sure-footed mastery of prose style." Charles Matthews

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"[Harwood] revels in the sense of the impending that is often lost in contemporary horror and understands that anticipation may be more terrifying than revelation. Elegantly paced and delightfully macabre, these tales celebrate the Victorian school and its obsession with the past’s authority over the present, the thin line between affection and obsession, the glimpse of the lurid from the corner of the eye." Douglas E. Winter

Entertainment Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"With his intricate and engrossing first novel, Harwood raises the ghost of the Victorian ghost story, goosing the action with a modern spin. … Add to that a creaky old house, a long-ago love triangle, and some antique radiation instruments, and you’ve got a ghoulishly absorbing read." Jennifer Reese

Newsday 2 of 5 Stars
"[Harwood] forgoes creating interesting, original characters, instead indulging in hackneyed, horror-genre trappings: dreams and nightmares, whispering voices, veiled figures, vertigo, inclement weather, bewitching portraits." Nathaniel Bellows

Critical Summary

With The Ghost Writer, Harwood has concocted a page-turning ghost story that has literary critics—rarely fans of the supernatural genre—heaping accolades and sleeping with the lights on. Harwood, a retired English professor, resides in Australia where he’s published several books of literary history. Perhaps this accounts for his masterful grasp of Victorian story-telling techniques. Except for Newsday, reviewers uniformly praise his authentic Gothic narratives, and compare them to Henry James’s stories and Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray. A few predict that the protagonist’s slow-burning dance of letters might not rumble enough for contemporary genre fans, and others note that the plot is delicately contrived. Still, most overlook these minor drawbacks and recommend Harwood’s debut.