Although I assure that most of the time you’ll find me reading your typical ‘boring’, ‘worthy’ books that grace the coffee tables of pretentious people sometimes I like to distract myself with a guilty pleasure.
However as I’m still a massive nerd these guilty pleasures tend to be historical or political thrillers.
Think the Da Vinci Code; meets the History Channel.
Anyway, its because of this I have now read most of Robert Harris’ books. I actually met him once when I was seventeen or eighteen at a conference about teaching History students to secondary school students that a friend and I were invited to speak at by our teacher. He seemed affable enough and his keynote speech detailed the plot of several of his books.
As such I bought two of his novels,Pompeii and Fatherland and when I read them I loved them. Nowadays I tend to read his books as a matter of course as they tend to mean I get a few days off from thinking too hard but still don’t have to check my brain on the opening page.
The Ghost is a political thriller about an autobiography ghost writer who gets lured into ghost writing the memoirs of a disgrace former Prime Minister (a thinly veiled depiction of Tony Blair) who’s hiding away in Martha’s Vineyard while allegations of war crimes mount up after the original aide who was supposed to be drafting them dies in mysterious circumstances.
The problem with thrillers, crime fiction novels etc is that I tend to guess who the bad guy is within the first couple of chapters. Then if the book is good I want to read to the end to see if I’m right.
99 per cent of the time I get it right.
As is the case with this book. Harris’ books do not normally require much intricate analysis or contemplation of events. It is a political pot boiler at its best. If you want something to read on your holidays this summer but can’t stand the insipid dross purported as ‘chick flick’ about women that can’t function on a level that doesn’t involve shoes or husband hunting or the type of book that graces the supermarket bestsellers lists with overwrought titles such as ‘Daddy No!’.
The prose is clunky in places and given that you will work it out within the first few chapters of the book, sometimes the retracing of a dead, and not especially interesting man, can drag. However it is an intriguing look at the relationship between politics and charisma; through the ghost writer’s eyes (whose name is cleverly concealed throughout the book) we can see how the image of a man is built and we spend the whole novel exploring how much is truth and how much is fiction.
Using a manipulator of other people’s words as the narrator is a clever technique to show the power of the record and how it can easily be distorted by politics and political interests. The ghost writer states that the beginning of the book that his goal was to make a book interesting, not necessarily to tell the truth. Its this ethos that underpins the subject matter of the book as we uncover a world where what you say and what you can dodge matters ten times more than what you believe or what you do.