The Ghost

Published: 2007
Author: Robert Harris

A stinging attack on New Labour, by one of its biggest supporters

There are some authors whose books you take to straight away – for me those authors include Jilly Cooper and John Grisham. There are others that can take a little more time to get used to. It took me a while to get into Ian Rankin, now I count him as one of my favourite crime writers so I generally find it worth persisting, particularly if it’s a genre you usually enjoy. Robert Harris was a grower on me. It took me three attempts to read Pompeii (although on the third attempt I could barely put it down) and who knows how many goes to get through Enigma. After a shaky start I now seem to get through Harris’ books really quite quickly, although, there does still seem to be a little bit of resistance – I have had The Ghost for about two years and not got round to reading it yet. Until now that is….

The story is narrated by a writer who has developed a healthy, if unremarkable, career ghost writing the memoirs of celebrities and sports personalities. Following the death of the previous author, the ghost writer (never named) is hired to work with former British Prime Minister Adam Lang on his memoirs. News that the International Criminal Court is likely to indict Lang on charges of war crimes increases the pressure on the ghost to produce the manuscript as quickly as possible, but he uncovers dangerous information about Lang which places his own life at risk.

This is Harris’ first contemporary novel and draws very much on his experience as a political journalist and commentator and his time at the heart of New Labour. Famously, Harris was the only journalist at Tony Blair’s side on the night of 1 May 1997 as the landslide victory for the Labour Party became apparent. As the country became disillusioned with Blair and New Labour, so too did Harris and he pours all of his anger out in the pages of this novel. Harris was desperate to get this book out before Blair’s own memoirs and stopped working on his Roman trilogy to focus on this book

The vain, mercurial Lang is a barely concealed portrait of Tony Blair, and his wife Ruth is even more recognisable as Cherie Blair. Or at least of the public perception of Cherie, I always had a soft spot for Mrs Blair and the character of Ruth, although spiky has some positive attributes which create a certain degree of sympathy for her. I do wonder if Harris had insider knowledge of Blair’s memoirs – he accurately captured the tedium of the book and the surprising lack of acknowledgement of his wife and children in Blair’s hefty tome.

In the end though, for all the recognisable characters and digs at Blair/Lang’s apparent lack of conviction, willingness to act as America’s right-hand man and the tension between the PM and former Foreign Secretary about the legality of war in the Middle East this is very clearly a work of fiction. A great, fun work of fiction with enough twists to keep the reader guessing and a top-notch denouement which had me holding my breath with excitement. It’s easy to find the comparisons with the real world and UK politics and some of that is fun, but you’ll enjoy the book more if you take it completely at face value as a fictional political thriller. Unless of course, you really like conspiracy theories…..

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  1. Fair review and interesting back story.

    Blair must have been turning in the back seat of the Daimler when he read it.

    I finished the book last night and, although I had already seen the film, I was very impressed – stunned even – at how cleverly the ‘narrator’ handled the ending. It’s rare to find a story with such a strong twist in the last three lines, so hats off to Mr. Harris.

    And to you, for a concise and informative review.

  2. RE ‘Blair must have been turning in the back seat of the Daimler when he read it.’, I meant the book. MO.

    • Shame, I like the idea of Blair squirming to the review. Not very likely though. I agree totally about the ending.

      Thanks for the kind words – hope to see you back soon.

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