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Customer reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars

on 6 September 2017
Excellent, re-reading it
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on 27 March 2017
Great Start. Then drags on for 800 pages. Too many letters between two characters. So glad the following two parts were never written. Tough guys dont dance and two other earlier novels highly recommend.
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on 11 December 2010
One of the Big White Daddy of American fiction's panoramic, brick-sized novels, Harlot's Ghost is the story of the CIA from 1955-1963, as lived by one of its operatives, Harry Hubard, in the shadow of other key figures in the agency, especially his father, Cal Hubbard and Hugh Montague, the latter known as Harlot.

Harry is typical of the successful agent, having the elite credentials of the WASP, Ivy League background, working in an organisation that is ultimately self-serving and understandably paranoid, with a probing finger in every pie, be it shady regimes, military groups or the mafia.

The metaphor of the harlot shows how performing a role turns the CIA into a self-perpetuating fantasy world with no clear boundaries as to where its authentic identity really begins or ends.

Harlot's Ghost is impressive, not so much because of Mailer's apparently thorough analysis of the CIA, but rather because of Kittredge, Mailer's most believable female character to date. Once married to Montague and then later to Harry, she is working on a thesis concerning the duality of the mind. Admittedly this does sound pretentious and, particularly, outdated for a philosophical thesis. Still, it shows how ambiguity affects and infects those who seek to serve what Montague at one point characterises as "the mind of America". There is much to recommend here, most especially if you are already a fan of Mailer's fiction, though you will need to be prepared to wade occasionally.
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on 31 July 2009
Mailer died while writing book two of the planned Harlot's Ghost trilogy but the fact that it's an unfinished masterpiece doesn't stop it being a masterpiece. On the face of it the book is a spy novel but it's really an attempt at the Great American Novel. I'd say a very successful attempt, although others have disagreed.

Mailer really lets himself go with this one. It's hyper-real rather than realist, completely over the top and self indulgent, (Mailer appears to have sacked his editor and then taken a course on how to go off on tangents from Victor Hugo) but it's massive fun. Mailer clearly had great fun writing the book but it covers many serious subjects too and there is some explicit sexual content of an alternative nature. Many of Mailer's later books appear to cover the similar themes, sexuality, mistrust/paranioa, betrayal, the nature of relationships and reality. This book is no exception and to me it feels like a spiritual, though clearly not an actual, autobiography. Mailer was accused of trying to make out he was tougher than he was during his earlier writing but there's none of that here. The book is clearly written by someone is aware of and has come to terms with many of his own shortcomings and conceits. The book feels very honest and "true".

I am Mailer fan anyway and this is definitely a Mailer book, so if you like his writing, you will love this. If you don't, you probably won't. If you've never read Mailer, then I would start with The Naked and the Dead but if I liked that I would read Harlot's Ghost next.
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VINE VOICEon 24 September 2002
Harlot's Ghost is a fictional inside view of working for the CIA during the 1950s and early 1960s, up to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The story begins in the present day with the mysterious death of a senior CIA agent, Hugh Montague, "Harlot", now semi-retired, but a powerful figure during the period covered by the book. Was it murder or suicide? Or was the death faked? Our narrator is Herrick Hubbard, Harlot's godson, who has his own suspicions about the death, which are gradually revealed as he relates (in flashback) the story of his own career in as a junior CIA officer during the 1950s, and 1960s. Hubbard was destined for the CIA, as both his father and godfather are agents. Gradually Mailer builds up a picture of a successful young man, whose career will always to some extent be tainted by accusations of nepotism. Harlot is his sponsor and role model, who helps his godson to succeed in the CIA - but are his motives always as clear-cut as they seem?
In a couple of places I found my attention wandering, usually when one of the many sub-plots failed to interest me. Most of them though, are fascinating insights into how the CIA works, and into that period of American history, with intrigue and conspiracy everywhere. Although the book is ostensibly about Hubbard's early career, the real story is about Harlot, and by the end of the book the reader thinks they know the truth - but unfortunately this is only the beginning - what is Hubbard planning to do now? If this book has a flaw, it is that the end of it comes before the main plot is concluded - despite the fact that it is a very long book! It is still a great book as a stand-alone novel, but it will become an even more worthwhile read if Mailer completes the sequel.
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on 18 September 2001
The initial reaction of any reader upon picking up a copy of 'Harlot's Ghost' must be to contemplate the novel's sheer size: at 1300+ words this is truly a monster. This said, as with many long novels, Mailer's fails to hold the reader's attention consistently as it attempts to be all things to all men- the thriller, the love story, the reflection on human nature and the history. This in itself is no bad thing, but one can't help but feel that Mailer approaches these elements of the novel one by one, rather than in a coherent mesh as would perhaps maintain the reader's interest more. The plot itself is twisted, entwined with both itself and reality, and ultimately fascinating but unfortunately it sometimes seems to find itself buried under a mountain of dull psychoanalysis. The characters are deep and consistent throughout, and yet it takes time to accept fictional creations conversing with real historical figures such as Jack Kennedy or Alan Dulles (this is not a criticism - Mailer explains convincingly his decision to include real names in the epilogue). The novel traces a second-generation CIA man through his experiences within and around 'the agency' over a period of three decades. There is a love interest whom Mailer makes to appear almost entirely unlovable (she is the source of the endless alpha/omega psychodrawel and seemingly self-obsessed), and yet this is just another factor in the creation of the main protagonist - Harry Hubbard - another character we are not supposed to entirely like, and yet can partially sympathise with. Like many great authors, Mailer lets the reader form no rock-solid conclusions about the characters: one minute the protagonist declares his undying love for his boss's wife, the next he finds himself in Uruguayan brothels ruminating on what he calls life. Ultimately, the conclusion to the book feels somewhat hurried. One thing one doesn't expect to find after over a thousand pages of fiction is a 'to be continued' message, and yet this is exactly what one gets. Mailer is apparently in the process of completing a sequel, and despite not being entirely riveted by 'Harlots Ghost' is it hard to envisage not reading the conclusion of what is, deep down, a gripping novel.
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VINE VOICEon 17 September 2003
This is a huge and very satisfying book. It takes us through a career in the CIA, and is a gripping account of the paranoia and arrogance of that organisation. It takes us through cold war events and locations, such as Berlin and the Bay of Pigs fiasco. It also deals with the seedier side of the JFK world. It will not take a conspiracy theory expert to figure out where it is all heading.
The book bursts with huge characters and excellent dialogue, and is littered with wonderful detail about the spying methods, dirty tricks and the control of information. The detail never becomes tedious, as it can in, say, Len Deighton.
The Harlot of the title, incidentally, is a spy and spymaster who is driven and focused, and has enormous presence on the page.
At over 1,000 pages, the book genuinely sustains an excellent pace. Take it on a long journey, or a holiday, and never look back.
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on 21 November 2003
Writing a novel of 1400 pages is a daunting task. The story msut be big enough and entertaiing enough to keep the reader's attention. In this case, the main subject - the CIA - is promising.
The novel tells two stories; first present day (1983) a mysterious death leaves the narrator exposed to some danger. The second story tells how the narrator joined the CIA and how the CIA moved through the decennia. Many a sub-plot along the way and the main theme being the bi-polar tension (Ying/Yang, Alpha/Omega whatever). The second story hold the key to the first. Mailer mixes truth/fact with fiction in a daunting way.
I never discovered the key though - left the story after 148 pages, bored by unnecessary subplot and the somewhat cliche scenes and characters. Too much useless action going about and the plots are a little too obvious. Main character is a bit of bore.
Dare I say that Mailer's megolomania got the better of him? Nice try to project the Great American Novel on the story of the CIA. Nice enough too mix grand thoughts into it. But the story line doesn't hold. But then again, I could be just me....
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on 29 October 2008
I suppose Macho Mailer thinks size is everything, which would account for the vastness of this tome. It's a seriously big book. Parts of it are good. Vast swathes of it are not.

The first hundred odd pages are fascinating, and the same could be said of the last hundred. Normally, two hundred exciting pages would amount to a bloody good book, but in this case, these two hundred pages are only a small part of the (for want of a better word) story. It was the eight hundred pages in between that were the problem. Yes, 800 pages. Harlot's Ghost is one of these books where you can spend an afternoon reading, only to realise that your efforts have made no discernable difference to the thickness of the unread portion of the book.

And, boy, did that book take some reading. The book is about the CIA and the identification of a traitor within that organisation, but there is no way it could be described as a thriller. Mailer happily doles out page after page of transcript of taped conversations, in the most trivial detail possible, and endless analysis of said trivia. It might be an attempt to demonstrate the banal reality behind the glamour of Hollywood's ideas of special ops, but I'm not sure he wasn't doing to just so he could brag about having written a bigger novel than his peers. Beat that, Gore! What's up Saul, too chicken to try?

Worst of all, having finally reached the end - where nothing has been resolved, naturally - you are confronted with the dread words "TO BE CONTINUED."

The grim reaper seems to have curtailed any effort on Mailer's part to continue the story. But you never know what might be lurking among his unpublished papers. Best avoided. Life is too short to read really ridiculously long books.
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on 7 September 2016
Great book but you need a dictionary and Wickipedia handy at all times
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