July 26, 2009
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The Ghost

by Robert Harris

The author of Imperium, Pompeii, and Fatherland visits the present in this thriller, a portrait of the ghost-writer to a former Prime Minister who is, unmistakably, Tony Blair. Oddly, while Harris’s historical novels seldom subvert history to the needs of the story, in this book atmospherics sometimes trump realism. The ghost-writer flies (business-class) to meet his new client, who is living in a billionaire’s compound on Martha’s Vineyard. But no one meets him at Logan; he’s told to catch the bus to Wood’s Hole, the ferry to the Vineyard, and a cab from the ferry. This does a nifty job of Isolating The Hero, sure, but does it make sense? Of course not: they’d have called a limo service.

Occasional false notes — the casual rudeness of a politician’s wife, the cheap artwork in a billionaire’s beach house, the klaxon call of a wood pigeon in the dune scrub of Martha’s Vineyard — are small irritations. Hornby thought this an angry book, but the anger at the Prime Minister is nicely restrained. The women surrounding him – his wife Ruth and his chief advisor Amerlia Bly – are the subject of a deeper and more corrosive anger.