Gerrard Freeman is a young Librarian living in Australia with his secretive mother. As a child he found a mysterious photograph and a strange ghost story written by his great-grandmother Viola Hatherley. The discovery causes his mother to abandon any mention of her former life in England, a life until that point lit up by sunlit tales of an idyllic country house named Staplefield. Gerrard believes there is a dark secret to be discovered which he shares with his only confidant and object of near obsessive devotion, pen friend Alice Jessell - a woman he has never met. Discovering more stories by Viola, Gerrard soon becomes aware of strange similarities and portentous detail.
John Harwood's The Ghost Writer is a complex puzzle of a story within a story with an unclear distinction between truth and fiction. It's very hard to keep the two separate and at times I tended to let Gerrard try to figure things out for me, which probably wasn't the wisest of actions on my part. Some aspects are much more clearly false to the reader than they are to our questing librarian which makes you rather want to give the poor guy a slap. Harwood switches styles pretty effortlessly between Gerrard's uncomplicated though bewildered narrative and the evocation of a hybrid chimera of Sheridan Le Fanu, Edgar Allan Poe and Henry James to breath style into Viola's macabre stories. The only real gripe I'd have is the rather abrupt ending, though in defense of Harwood there is very little left unresolved. The lack of any real concluding end-note had me holding up the blank end-pages and considering the possibility of hidden passages in lemon juice.