I did not read The Ghost when it came out. It was one of those ‘in the news’ books where the extent of the blanket coverage sort of puts you off – with so many interviews and the like, it feels you have already read the thing. Also it lacked one of the key elements that made the best of Harris’ thrillers so vivid – their interesting and well-researched historical backgrounds. I got the impression it was written in haste and anger and that’s never really a good thing.
However I have always been kind of curious about the novel and I enjoyed the film version, The Ghost Writer, despite it having a miscast Ewan McGregor in the lead. The film also had a curious, slightly unreal, aspect to it, perhaps because of Germany substituting for the US because the director, Polanksi, is unable to leave Europe. The film also has one of the most blatant examples of product placement I have ever seen – in one sequence, when out hero leaves UK for the States, there is an establishing shot of the airport and a fully liveried and logoed truck belonging to a certain delivery company pulls into and fills the frame, then we have a shot of an aircraft in flight with strong emphasises on the airline’s logo, then we have McGregor asking the stewardess for a certain newspaper by name…. it’s so blatant it’s almost amusing and I can only imagine Polanksi did it like deliberately for some reason.
Anyway, back to the novel – the ‘ghost’ of the title is the book’s nameless protagonist who is drafted in on short notice to ghost-write the autobiography of recently retired Prime Minister Tony Blair, sorry Adam Lang, after the previous ghost drowned. However once the new ghost arrives in Martha’s Vineyard where the PM is staying the death of his previous incumbent in the role soon starts to look like no accident. As the current ghost researches Lang’s history and the work that the previous ghost’s biography did on it, it seems there could be a deadly hidden secret in Lang’s past.
Harris was close to New Labour and the portrayal of Lang is pretty astonishing, going to show just how let down he must have felt over Blair’s actions, particularly over Iraq. Lang is almost a ghost of a character himself, a professional actor before he went into politics, who seems to have no honest convictions and whilst naturally charismatic, not even having a fully defined character of his own, permanently playing a role. His wife, at first seems more sympathetic as she sidelined her own political ambitions to make way for her less talented, committed and intelligent, but more superficially charming and natural politician husband. However she later comes over as a scheming Lady Macbeth type of character and overall is a pretty cruel dig at Cherie Blair (as described in the novel she even looks like her!). There’s also a hugely sympathetic, if slightly naive character, obviously based on Robin Cook as kind of a nod to the charms of honest old Old Labour.
The book seemed actually better than the film – despite being a generally good actor and decent screen presence, McGregor is just not down at heel enough to play the protagonist as presented in the novel. Even knowing most of the plot in advance Harris keeps the interest level high and the laying out of the clues, especially as some revolve around written texts work a lot better in this format. The various in-joke asides regarding publishing are also fun too – something the film did not really have room for – especially on the life of the ghost writer and just how pervasive they are.
So all in all I’d recommend The Ghost, it’s certainly a lot better then The Fear Index I read a short time ago.