Cover image for The ghost writer
The ghost writer
Harwood, John.
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Publication Information:
Orlando : Harcourt, [2004]

Physical Description:
369 pages ; 24 cm
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A tantalizing tale of suspense and family secrets that weaves Victorian ghost stories into the present - where they start to come true

Timid, solitary librarian Gerard Freeman lives for just two things: his elusive pen pal Alice and a story he found hidden in his mother's drawer years ago. Written by his great-grandmother Viola, it hints at his mother's role in a sinister crime. And as he discovers more of Viola's chilling tales, he realizes that they might hold the key to finding Alice and unveiling his family's mystery - or will they bring him the untimely death they seem to foretell?

Harwood's astonishing, assured debut shows us just how dangerous family skeletons - and stories -- can be.

Author Notes

John Harwood is the author of two previous novels of Victorian Gothic suspense. Aside from fiction, his published work includes biography, poetry, political journalism and literary history. His acclaimed first novel, The Ghost Writer , won the International Horror Guild's First Novel Award. He lives in Hobart, Australia.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Harwood's debut is a haunting literary gothic, a slow-building suspense thriller about family secrets and ghosts that is reminiscent of both Seamus Deane's Reading in the Dark 0 (1997) and the paranormal film The Others0 . Gerard Freeman, a solitary librarian, lives in Australia with his reticent and fearfully anxious mother, who once regaled him with stories of her idyllic childhood in the English countryside with her grandmother, Viola. When Gerald discovers one of Viola's ghost stories in a locked drawer, his mother suddenly stops talking about her childhood; the silence only deepens over the years as Gerald becomes involved in an intense and love-laden correspondence with his English pen pal, Alice. After his mother dies, Gerard tracks down more of Viola's writings, sinister Victorian tales of ill-fated love, betrayal, and murder, one of which, according to his mother, came true. Is Gerard's own life at stake? The ghost stories at the heart of this book are lyrical, labyrinthine tales that feel simultaneously fresh and familiar, making this an atmospheric paranormal thriller with many surprises. --Misha Stone Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Sly nods to spooky literary spinsters-Henry James's Miss Jessel and Dickens's Miss Havisham-set the tone for this confident debut, a gothic suspense novel with a metatextual spin. Gerard Freeman grows up on the windswept southern coast of Australia in the late 20th century with a controlling mother strangely silent about the details of her childhood in England. His only solace is steadfast English pen friend, Alice, to whom he confides everything. What was Gerard's mother, Phyllis, hoping to escape when she left England? The protagonist slowly pieces together his mother's past with the aid of short stories written by his great-grandmother, Viola. These cunning tales, filled with supernatural occurrences and s?ances, are seamlessly embedded in the main narrative, offering Gerard-and readers-enticing clues into his troubled family's history. After Phyllis's death, her newly liberated son travels to England, hoping to learn more and to pursue elusive Alice. As he searches through the country house his mother inhabited long ago, Gerard finds past and present fusing in horrifying fashion. In the hands of a lesser novelist, sustaining several plot lines might have been difficult. But the novel links textual investigation and sublimated passion, building to a satisfying, unexpected ending. Agent, Kathleen Anderson. (July) Forecast: This A.S. Byatt-lite offering will appeal to the A&E set and to horror/suspense readers looking for something with a literary edge. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Harwood's compelling first novel speaks of love, family, and obsession. Since age 14, Australian Gerard Freeman has been corresponding with pen pal Alice Jessel and dreams of one day visiting her in England, in spite of his mother's disapproval. Alice, confined to a wheelchair, refuses to meet or even talk on the phone with Gerard until she can walk again. While snooping in his mother's dresser one day, Gerard finds a ghost story written by his grandmother Viola. Over time, he finds more stories, all eerily reminiscent of his family history but written years before the events actually happened. What is going on? Will he ever find his beloved Alice, or will family tragedies somehow stand in their way? Harwood's well-drawn characters and Gothic plot propel the reader toward the novel's denouement. Including the text of Viola's stories adds to the surreal drama, as they serve as untrustworthy flashbacks and help blur the line between fantasy and reality. Strongly recommended for all but the smallest public libraries.-Laurel Bliss, Princeton Univ. Lib., NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



I FIRST SAW THE PHOTOGRAPH ON A HOT JANUARY AFTERnoon in my mother's bedroom. She was asleep-so I thought-in the sunroom at the other end of the house. I crept in through the half-open door, enjoying the feeling of trespass, breathing the scents of perfume and powder and lipstick and other adult smells, mothballs for the silverfish and insect spray for the mosquitoes our screens never quite managed to keep out. The net curtains were drawn, the blind half lowered; there was nothing to see through the window except the blank brick wall of old Mrs Noonan's place next door.I stole across to my mother's dressing-table and stood listening in the dim light. The house was silent apart from the muffled ticking and creaking which my father insisted was the iron roof expanding in the heat, not someone creeping about in the dark cavity above the ceiling. One by one I tried the drawers, three on each side. As always, only the bottom left-hand drawer was locked. There were wooden panels between each layer, so you couldn't see what was in the drawer below by pulling out the one above. Last time I had searched through the litter of tubes and jars and bottles crammed into the uppermost drawer on the right. Today I started on the next one down, rummaging through a shoebox crammed with packets of needles and carded buttons, reels of coloured cotton and hanks of wool, the loose ends hopelessly tangled.To see if there was anything behind the shoebox, I tugged at the drawer. It stuck, then shot right out of the dressing-table and hit the floor with a thud. I tried to force the drawer back in, but it wouldn't go. Any second now, I expected to hear my mother's footsteps hurrying up the hall, but no sound followed. Even the ticking in the ceiling had died away.There seemed no reason why it wouldn't fit. Except that something cold and hard was stuck to the underside, right at the back. A small brass key. I had prised it loose, peeled away the tape and opened the locked drawer before the enormity of what I was doing had begun to register.The first thing I saw was a book, whose title would elude me for years afterward. The Carillon? The Chemillon? The Chalmion? A word I didn't know. The grey paper cover was crumbling at the edges and pitted with rust-coloured spots. It had no pictures and looked grown-up and boring.I couldn't find anything else. Then I saw that the brown paper lining on the bottom of the drawer was actually a very large envelope. It had a typewritten address and stamps on it, and one end had been slit with a knife. Another disappointment: just a thick bundle of pages with typewriting on them, tied together with rusty black ribbon. As I drew out the bundle, a photograph slid into my lap.I had never seen the woman in the photograph before, and yet I felt I knew her. She was young, and beautiful, and unlike most people I had seen in photographs she did not look straight at you, but gazed away to one side, her chin tilted slightly upwards, as if she Excerpted from The Ghost Writer by John Harwood All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

"For those of us who love the tradition of literary high
Victorian Gothic -Henry James and M.R. James and Mr. Dickens himself! -
The Ghost Writer is a feast, but you don't need any prior knowledge of these other writers to savor the pure pleasure of reading this book.
The fissures in the text that let in a gust of modernity - computers, emails - just lift it into real, pure horror.
It is also mordantly funny!
That is sheer genius - to make me terrified and laughing all at once.
A tour de force." -Patricia Duncker,
Author of Seven Tales of Sex and Death "
Harwood has an extraordinary knack of feeling
His way into the style, vocabulary and characteristic
Preoccupations of the great ghost story writers of the 19th and early 20th centuries
He never puts a foot wrong
The skill and verve of these stories are undeniable and irresistible
Harwood is an expert at pacing his narrative, generating
suspense and conjuring up things that go bump in the night."
- Sydney Morning Herald