14th June 2010
(This paperback is the first edition, published January 1st, 2007)
A few days ago I came across a copy of Robert Harris’s novel “The Ghost”. At the knockdown price of a penny less than GBP£1, that’s about $1.44 in American, I thought it might be worth splashing out. Its price on the back cover is £12.99.
It was hard to resist contributing to a local charity shop, especially since the book clearly hadn’t been opened by the previous owner.
In case you are an innocent in this world of politics and writing about it, the hero/anti-hero of this book is not just any imaginary former prime minister. It is Tony Blair, former British prime minister.
But before I go on, and on and on – and I will, this is only chapter one –
THIS LITTLE TALE IS FOR THE CURIOUS
THOSE WHO WANT TO KNOW THE REAL GHOSTWRITER
THE REAL GHOSTWRITER IS ROBERT HARRIS
But before I explain why I have come to that conclusion on the unnamed ghostwriter of the book I have to admit, despite myself, that Harris’s book is –
A PAGE TURNER
It surprised me. This fiction/faction which still disturbs me for reasons mentioned here, was an enjoyable read. Or most of it. I did not enjoy the ending of chapter 15:
“And that is my final image of Lang: a man always with his hand held out. It is burned into my retina – his yearning shadow against the expanding ball of bright white fire that suddenly engulfed him…” (p.280)
It evades me how anyone, unless their psychological state is unbalanced or their bitterness more deadly than botulinum, can write in this way of the imagined murder of a former colleague and, presumably, friend. It takes a special kind of detachment. Or perhaps a thirst for revenge or power over the “powerful”. Possibly all three. “Justice” or the lack of it, doesn’t enter the equation.
But the book’s still a page-turner. Despite its inconsistencies and endless “We ALL Know” thrashing around for A.N. Other conspiracy behind the last one, it leaves Polanski’s movie version in its wake.
So, praise where it’s due. Harris is an entertaining writer, using similes frequently and effectively. He has an admirably self-serving way of suffusing content with his own opinions through the mouths of his characters added to by the suitably described isolation and bleakness of the main setting and the use of some cogent, familiar references. Disregard for a second that his opinions are a touch suspect. He rises to the task he has set himself. And the book is an easy read, moving along apace.
OK, second’s out.
REGARDING HARRIS’S MOTIVES
Apart from cashing in disreputably, in a roman-a-clef fashion, you need to REGARD closely that Harris has his own, strong and very suspect opinions on the real-life former prime minister and his motives for joining the USA in the war in Iraq. Harris’s own motives for this highly coloured look at that decision are shared by many a Guardian reader. Harris is their spokesman.
You also need to know the task Harris has set himself and his reasons.
They are the same reasons that every “Blair is a war criminal” accusor has for waving placards. They are multitudinous and destructive in every way possible, while pretending to be the opposite. They are – disappointment, anti-war, anti-big business, anti-America, anti-leadership, anti-power, anti-noticing an enemy in this liberal-thinking land, denial. In fact it’s tough to find anything positive in their reasons. They are ‘anti’ by nature. Apart, that is, from the positive certainty that “truth” will out, and that somehow all will be well with the world once one particular character is out of it.
THE UNNAMED GHOSTWRITER?
I conclude that this book IS about a ghostwriter or would-be ghostwriter as much as it is about the so-called “war criminal” and former British Prime Minister.
It is about the ghostwriter that Harris would LOVE to have been for Mr Blair.
Except he wasn’t asked.
It’s the “look what you missed” jibe at his former employer, who has had the audacity to think he can write his own book, “The Journey”, out in September (pre-order here); no ghostwriter; all longhand; no computer.
I conclude that this is a self-serving book, as much as it is a holier-than-thou, supercilious – “here’s the full inside story” – tome, compiled from “sources” and laying down markers for the future using regurgitated “facts” about the rumoured possible criminal acts of one of the world’s most respected politicians.
It is clearly both, and a lot more beside.
Despite the honest, seemingly empathic ghostwriter’s thoughts at the end just after the assassination of Lang –
– I am still left with the sinking feeling that if the real former prime minister were ever to meet the tragic fate of Lang, Harris would express no more than a “what did we expect” melancholic sympathy.
He would take no responsibility. He would feel no shame. He would feel no guilt.
After all, he, or rather his ghostwriter character actually “liked” the assassinated former PM of the book.
I imagine Harris could find it in his heart to say the same about the real one.
You can pre-order the real thing here at Amazon – “A Journey: My Political Life” by Tony Blair, out September 2010
But if you’re expecting this particular author to write about doing away with colleagues, forget it.