The Ghost Writer by John Harwood

Having grown up with a controlling, secret-keeping mother, a young man yearns to know his family’s history and meet his letter-writing lover in person, but his journey takes him face to face with madness and murder.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to Eva for recommending this book!

The Ghost Writer is a straight up Gothic tale, no revisionism here, thank you very much. It’s a tangled labyrinth of memories, letters, and unfinished stories that builds to a creepy, frightening climax that draws upon the best tropes of the genre without losing sight of the story being told.

Ever since he was 13, Gerard has been writing to Alice, a young paraplegic who awakens Gerard’s sexuality without ever giving him any specific information about herself. Meanwhile, he has also discovered eerie ghost stories written, he thinks, by his grandmother. He grows to believe that if he can unlock the family secrets hinted at in the book, he will be able to win Alice’s heart and live with her at the English estate his mother held so dear–until she stopped talking about it altogether.

I adore the gothic genre, from classics like Rebecca to Diane Setterfield’s insta-classic The Thirteenth Tale. I also have a special fondness for books that have strong, suspenseful plots that CANNOT be made into movies. The Ghost Writer is such a book, relying as it does upon the reader’s participation as a reader. As in, by reading the stories and the letters as if looking over Gerard’s shoulder. And the imagery that Harwood conjures in the stories within the book are the kind that have more power because you can’t see them. If you could see the paintings that bewitch the poor characters, they wouldn’t be nearly as effective, I believe. It’s not that I think that film is an inferior medium; rather, I’m joyful when I get such a shining example of what books can do that movies cannot.

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