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The Ghost Writer [Hardcover]

John Harwood
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 2004

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.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 369 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt (May 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151010749
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151010745
  • Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 16.3 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,039,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

The Ghost Writer, John Harwood's debut novel, is a rousing story with many twists and turns--rather reminiscent of taking apart a Russian matryoshka nesting doll. Gerard Freeman, aged 10, sneaks into his mother's room and unlocks a secret drawer, only to find a picture of a woman he has never seen before, but one that he will find again and again. His mother discovers him and gives him the beating of his life. Why this excessive reaction? She is a worried, paranoid, thin and fretful type with an "anxious, haunted look". By tale's end, we know why.

Phyllis Freeman, Gerard's mother, was happiest when speaking fondly of Staplefield, her childhood home, where there were things they "didn't have in Mawson [Australia]--chaffinches and mayflies and foxgloves and hawthorn, coopers and farriers and old Mr Bartholomew who delivered fresh milk and eggs to their house with his horse and cart." It's the sort of childhood idyll that the timid and lonely Gerard believes in and longs for. He strikes up a correspondence with an English penfriend, Alice Jessel, when he is 13 and a half, living in a desolate place with a frantic mother and a silent father. She is his age, her parents were killed in an accident and she has been crippled by it. She now lives in an institution, and her description of the grounds sounds much like his mother's description of Staplefield. They go through young adulthood together, in letters only, thousands of miles apart, eventually declaring their love for one another.

Interwoven with the narrative of Alice and Gerard's letters are real ghost stories, the creation of Gerard's great-grandmother, Viola. At first, they seem to be scary Victorian tales of the supernatural. Then we see that they have a spooky way of mirroring, or preceding, events in real life, off the page. Gerard comes upon them, one by one, in mysterious ways, but clearly something, or someone, is leading him. The stories seem to implicate his mother in some nefarious goings-on, but the truth is far worse than Gerard imagines.

Any more would be telling too much. Turn on all the lights in the house when you settle down with this one, and plan to spend a long time reading because you will be lost in the story immediately. --Valerie Ryan,


"Atmospheric debut novel" (Emma Hagestadt The Independent)

"A compelling, atmospheric and well-crafted story" (Guardian)

"An elegant homage to the Victorian ghost story tradition... Makes your flesh creep" (The Times)

"Irresistible... Structured like a haunted mansion" (Observer)

"Harwood is enviable skilled, handling pacing, delivery and plot with assurance and sly humour... The Ghost Writer has powerful moments and...a delicacy and tenderness that make it wonderfully readable" (Times Literary Supplement) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Elegant, spellbinding terror. 3 May 2004
The Ghost Writer is a superbly crafted,ingeniously constructed, elegantly written supernatural novel, a compulsive page-turner which will be enjoyed by connoisseurs of the genre and the more general reader alike. Certainly no afficionado of the Golden Age ghost story---the world of M.R. James, Vernon Lee, 'The Turn of the Screw' and Arthur Machen can afford to miss this novel, but I would also recommend it to anyone who enjoys a growing feeling of unease and spooky suspense. Gerard Mawson begins by being intrigued by the discovery of the ghost stories written by his great-grandmother, Viola Hatherley, in the 1890s and ends by being drawn into a web of horror that will have the hairs rising on the back of your neck and will prompt you to check inside your bedroom cupboards before turning off the light. One of the pleasures of this novel is the way in which Viola's fin de siecle stories are woven into the main narrative, and indeed the quality of the stories themselves, which might have come from a long lost copy of The Yellow Book ---the first story, Seraphina, for example, is an elegant pastiche with overtones of 'Dorian Gray'. But Viola's stories are not merely there for decoration----read this novel to discover how Gerard's reading interconnects with his life with chilling results. Don't miss this fabulous book!
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gothic Ghost Tale 3 Jan 2007
By kehs TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The story is about Gerard, a young boy growing up in Australia, the country his mother came to after leaving Staplefield, the country home in England in which she grew up. She tells Gerard very little about her past so one day Gerard unlocks her desk and finds some personal papers. For this his mother beats him but still refuses to speak of her past.

Gerard eventually finds a pen pal called Alice to who he pours out his heart. They fall in love and so begins a courtship that is created on paper. Alice repeatedly refuses to meet him, explaining that she is a paraplegic but with a cure in sight, so wants to wait until she can walk again.

Gerard continues to try and discover more about his background and finds a ghost story written by his Grandmother and learns that she wrote 3 more too. As he grows up he is amazed to realise that his Gran's stories reflect his real life in an uncanny manner.

The ending to this story is when he finally meets Alice and the conclusion is terrifyingly spooky and so desperately saddening.

A terrific Victorian gothic style ghost story. Full of mystery, suspense, romance and surprises. There are twists and turns all the way through that leaves the reader desperately turning the pages as fast as possible. Extremely well written with amazing imagery, this was a superbly haunting tale that I truly enjoyed.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Old-fashioned mystery improves on second reading 11 Dec 2006
By Monique
Like most of the other reviewers I was disappointed with the ending of this novel. I enjoyed the book immensely, but while thinking about it afterwards I realised I wasn't sure exactly what had happened in the end. So I read it again.

This is an old-fashioned mystery where clues are peppered throughout the whole novel and the answers are there if you realise what the clues are and can put them all together. It's also a chilling ghost story and gripping read that will have you turning the pages right up to the last page.

If you had a little trouble figuring things out, try the online forum There is an online discussion and then a stream where the author joins in to answer some questions and clarify some points. This helped me out a great deal.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Complex but enthralling 9 Jan 2013
By Rossi
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
After reading this and The Séance, I am in no doubt that John Harwood is an accomplished author of the gothic genre. The Ghost Writer is is an interesting concept of ghost stories within a story and it takes a good deal of concentration and careful reading as the ghost stories seem to intertwine and are linked with the main character Gerard's family history. At times, I found it quite complex with the ghost stories becoming very detailed and involved but I was keen to know of Gerard's fate and whether he ever met Alice his long time pen friend. I was a little disappointed with the ending but nevertheless I found it quite an enthralling read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved the ghost stories 16 Oct 2011
Gerard Freeman has grown up in Mawson, Australia, listening to his mother's tales of her own childhood at Staplefield, a country estate in England. However, when she finds him going through her private papers one day she is furious and from that moment she refuses to say any more about her past.

Gerard continues to investigate his mother's background and is intrigued when he discovers some ghost stories written by his great-grandmother, Viola Hatherley. Unable to talk to his mother about his discoveries, the only person Gerard can confide in is his English penpal, Alice Jessel. It's only as Gerard grows older and uncovers more of his family history that he begins to understand the full significance of Viola's stories and how they relate to his own life.

I was very impressed by this book. The closest comparison I can make is to Possession by A.S. Byatt. Both books are very well written and have similar structures, with different sections written in different styles and with letters and stories woven into the plot. I did find this an easier and more entertaining read than Possession, though, and at times it also reminded me of The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.

Viola Hatherley's ghost stories were my favourite parts of the novel. They were very creepy and I could really believe they'd been written during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I loved the way the ghost stories were connected to Gerard's own story and yet they would have been good enough to stand alone as a separate short story collection too. Often when I read a book containing stories-within-stories I find myself becoming impatient and wanting to get back to the main plot, but not this time!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Complex, confusing
There were a lot of story lines intertwined, the effect was more confusing than interesting. A few macabre touches, but these didn't really add to the plot and characters. Read more
Published 2 months ago by janbay
2.0 out of 5 stars I don't recommend it
This strated off and it was interesting, but then it all got a bit silly. Towards the end I had lost interest in the story and I needed to put some effort in just to read the last... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Fraser
4.0 out of 5 stars Ghost Writer
Gerrard Freeman is a young Librarian living in Australia with his secretive mother. As a child he found a mysterious photograph and a strange ghost story written by his... Read more
Published 23 months ago by Michael Finn
2.0 out of 5 stars Stars diminish page by page
I bought this book before finishing the author's follow-up novel, The Seance.

If I'd waited, I'd probably have opted to save my money - such was my disappointment with... Read more
Published on 7 Nov 2011 by Peter
4.0 out of 5 stars The Ghost Writer
Gerald Freeman has a stifling childhood in Mawson, Australia, with a nervous and controlling mother and a virtually invisible father. Read more
Published on 18 Oct 2011 by S Riaz
3.0 out of 5 stars Frustrated!
Unlike some of the other readers I loved the jump between Gerards story and the Ghost stories written by Viola, and to be honest a little scared of seeing the vieled woman! Read more
Published on 12 Feb 2010 by Ms. R. Moone
4.0 out of 5 stars Very atmospheric and suspenseful, but unusual structure.
This novel is not at all what I expected from the reviews and book jacket. It's very well written, suspenseful and worth the while. Read more
Published on 18 Nov 2009 by Henley3
2.0 out of 5 stars It promised to be so much more...
Firstly, the positive: This is a well written book with an unusual format, that is, the stories within a story. Read more
Published on 10 Aug 2009 by Caroline Ayres
1.0 out of 5 stars A Bitter Disappointment, and a Warning to the Curious...
Like many reviewers here, I guess, I often search Amazon for books of this kind - books which promise a modern take on the 'classic', traditional ghost story. Read more
Published on 30 Mar 2009 by Steve Jensen
4.0 out of 5 stars (3.5 stars) Atmospheric but fizzles out at the end
I won't review the plot as so many others have already done that. This is an elegantly-written and multi-layered novel, but I was really disappointed with the ending. Read more
Published on 14 Feb 2009 by Roman Clodia
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