Harwood’s The Ghost Writer is a tour-de-force of the “is it a haint, or ain’t it” style of ghost(?) story, and simultaneously an impressive feat of post-modern multi-level narrative construction. Gerard Freeman keeps finding ghost stories — both whole and as tantalizing fragments — written by a mysterious relative, which the reader gets to absorb along with Gerard. The more of them he finds, the more they seem to have a connection to Gerard’s family — his mother is at the least eccentric, if not actually mad, and Gerard has unresolved questions about how she came to leave (flee?) England for Australia. Gerard acquires an equally mysterious pen pal with a name — Alice Jessel — that aficionados of classic ghost stories might find unusually resonant. (Through a happy accident, I’d never gotten around to reading James’ The Turn of the Screw, so when Gerard encounters that novel, I was able to read it along with him, an experience I recommend.) The mysteries in Gerard’s past and present, collide, as you know they must. I found the resolution quite satisfying. I worked out most of it out before Gerard did, but I was still surprised by a few of the turns. Reading this novel reminded me in an odd way of watching The Ring: I was often very conscious of the degree to which I was being manipulated — The Ghost Writer uses the novelistic equivalents of jump cuts and shrieking violins — but my awareness of the writer’s intent hardly diminished the effectiveness of the work; it’s one creepy book.
Needs More Demons? Nuh-uh.