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Book: The Ghost Writer

March 31, 2009


Okay, so totally not what I was expecting — but only in the best way!

I love Victorian gothic tales, and this is a modern version, perfectly, hauntingly, agonizingly rendered.

Gerard Freeman, a perfectly ordinary — even boring — boy, grows up in Australia, his closest friend is his penfriend, Alice. Alice is a girl, confined to a wheelchair in far-off England, who eventually becomes the love of Gerard’s life. She is his life. They do not meet… until much, much later.

Gerard grows up in an atmosphere of mystery. Why is his mother so distant, and fearful? Why is she so overly protective? And why won’t Alice agree to meet, or even to talk on the phone?

As Gerard grows up and becomes determined to meet Alice, he begins to piece together bits of his family history. His grandmother (great-grandmother?) was a writer of ghost stories, and through these stories, we begin to see — as through broken glass — the horrifying truth of Gerard’s family. But will Gerard see it? Will he see it — in time?

Oh my goodness, this is the type of ghost story that I completely adore. Smart, compelling writing, cleverly crafted plot and unusual twists, and — towards the end — pretty horrifying. No ick, all spook.

Much of the book is Gerard’s (who isn’t much of a character) grandmother’s stories. There must have been at least four or five of them. I was actually tempted to skip over them because I tend to get annoyed by plot devices such as stories-within-stories, but I made myself read them and I’m glad I did. First, they were captivating and enjoyable. And second, after about half the book, I started getting an inkling of what was going on with the stories and the main plot of the book. Fascinating! Then I was completely hooked.

The old house is exactly what a haunted house should be, full of dust and mysteries. And some mysteries still remain running around in my head. Why was Alice’s last name spelled Jessell, with two “L”s, when every other search turned up only Jessels with one “L”… and even the ghostly clue spells it with one “L”? And what exactly happened to Filly, and to Anne? I’ll have to think about it. I like it when stories have lots of mysteries, and you just know that you can figure them out if you think about it long enough. I was completely fascinated by the family history and the series of horrible events that are slowly revealed.

Carefully crafted with a long, slow, dreadful build, the book drew me in and I found myself literally cringing as I read, the press of horrified tension building as I obsessively read straight through to the really wonderful, terrifying end. I loved it!

And now, lucky me, I have The Seance to go straight into. What a great ghost story. If you’re tempted to read it, you may want to save this one for October… but I couldn’t resist. Especially, if, like me, you grew up with a creaky old attic overhead, and had a penchant for hiding notes, thinking that someone in the future might find them, and if you ever had a mysterious penpal (or wanted one) — this is perfect for you.

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