Ken is a very dear friend and as mentioned in earlier posts, we share a common passion: reading. I am grateful he agrees to review books he reads on my blog. Ken has a disarmingly powerful writing style. Do not miss this post.
It is 2007 and Adam Lang has just stepped down after 10 years as British Prime Minister.
Adam and his wife Ruth are now based in Martha’s Vineyard at the home of Adam’s US publisher, preparing for Adam’s memoirs, to be written by a ghost writer whose name we will never get to know.
The memoirs will cover momentous and controversial events, in particular Britain going to war in Iraq in support of the United States on the basis of flawed intelligence.
Sounds familiar? Robert Harris is a leading exponent of the “What If?” historical thriller and The Ghost is no exception. Adam and Ruth bear an uncanny resemblance to Tony and Cherie Blair.
Without giving too much away, the thrills are delivered in a number of different ways around the
• unfolding reality that Adam may be tried for war crimes committed during acts of rendition in which the British government was complicit
• strange circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the previous ghost writer – yes, this is the second attempt to start Adam’s memoirs
• complex relationship between Adam and Ruth and in particular how they met in the first place
• increasing difficulty for an impoverished writer of reconciling the large fee he will receive with the moral ambiguity of his subject which he progressively uncovers
The key to Harris’s compelling and fast-paced narrative is twofold: the accuracy with which he researches and portrays his subjects and their environment; and the plausibility which he extrapolates fact into possibility.
When Harris wrote the book, he warned his publishers that the Blairs might sue him (they did not); this is always a danger when a writer’s subjects are alive. Harris is no stranger to controversial themes and has been described in equal measure by commentators as either brave or foolhardy in attempting to deliver historical fiction that challenges existing scholarship or actual events. The Ghost is a departure from his previous and subsequent novels which have tackled subjects in the more distant past.
I am a particular fan of this book though. Blair’s decision (yes it was his, personally) to take his country into the 2003 Iraq War was one of the worst political misjudgments in recent British history, leading to appalling loss of life at home and abroad. Or as former UK MP George Galloway put it: “Tony Blair will be remembered for nothing other than that he followed George W. Bush over a cliff; took the rest of us with them, and we haven’t yet reached the bottom, I’m afraid.”
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The key to Harris’s compelling and fast-paced narrative is twofold: the accuracy with which he portrays his subjects; and the plausibility which he extrapolates fact into possibility.