The Ghost (novel)

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The Ghost
Ghost cover scan .jpg
First edition (UK)
AuthorRobert Harris
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreThriller novel
PublisherHutchinson (UK)
Simon & Schuster (US)
Publication date
26 September 2007
Media typePrint (hardback)(First edition)
Pages320 (1st UK)
LC ClassPR6058.A69147 G48 2007c

The Ghost is a contemporary political thriller by the best-selling English novelist and journalist Robert Harris. In 2010, the novel was adapted into a film, The Ghost Writer, directed by Roman Polanski and starring Pierce Brosnan, for which Polanski and Harris co-wrote the screenplay.


In 2007 British prime minister Tony Blair resigned. Harris, a former Fleet Street political editor, dropped his other work to write the book. The ghost of the title refers both to a professional ghostwriter, whose lengthy memorandum forms the novel, and to his immediate predecessor who, as the action opens, has just drowned in mysterious circumstances.

The dead man had been ghosting the autobiography of a recently unseated British prime minister named Adam Lang, a thinly disguised version of Blair.[1] The fictional counterpart of Cherie Blair is depicted as a sinister manipulator of her husband. So astonishing are the implied allegations of the roman à clef that, had it concerned a lesser figure and were Harris a less eminent novelist, Britain's libel laws might have rendered publication impossible: Harris told The Guardian before publication, "The day this appears a writ might come through the door. But I would doubt it, knowing him."[2] The thriller acquires an added frisson from the fact that Harris was an early and enthusiastic backer of Blair and a donor to New Labour funds.[3]

The New York Observer, headlining its otherwise hostile review The Blair Snitch Project, commented that the book's "shock-horror revelation" was "so shocking it simply can't be true, though if it were it would certainly explain pretty much everything about the recent history of Great Britain."[3]

Plot summary[edit]

Most of the action takes place on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, where Lang has been holed up in the holiday home of his billionaire American publisher to turn out his memoirs on a deadline. Other scenes are set in Notting Hill, New York and Whitehall.

Lang's former aide, Mike McAra, has been struggling to ghost the former politician's memoirs. But, as the novel opens, McAra drowns when he apparently falls off the Woods Hole ferry. The fictional narrator of The Ghost, whose name is never revealed, is hired to replace him. His girlfriend walks out on him over his willingness to take the job: "She felt personally betrayed by him; she used to be a party member." He soon suspects foul play and stumbles across evidence of possible motive, buried in Lang's Cambridge past. Having located what may be the lethal secret, the replacement ghostwriter begins to fear for his own safety.

Meanwhile, Lang, like his real-life counterpart, has been accused by his enemies of war crimes. A leaked memorandum has revealed that he secretly approved the capture and extraordinary rendition of UK citizens to Guantanamo Bay to face interrogation and torture. Richard Rycart, Lang's disillusioned and renegade former foreign secretary (loosely based on Robin Cook), who before and during his early days in office made much of his wish to adopt an "ethical" foreign policy, is now at the UN, in a position to do his former boss serious damage. Unlike Blair, Lang thus appears in imminent threat of indictment at the International Criminal Court.

The narrator tussles to reconcile his obligation to complete the ghosting job with its attendant abundant payment on the one hand and, on the other, the pressing need, as he sees it, to reveal Lang's true allegiances. The action really heats up when he contacts Rycart. The narrator comes under increasing jeopardy: romantically and politically, as well as physically.

Lang and Blair[edit]

Harris said in a National Public Radio interview that politicians like Lang and Blair, particularly when they have been in office a long time, become divorced from everyday reality, read little, and end up with a limited outlook. When it comes to writing their memoirs, they therefore tend to have all the more need of a ghostwriter. Harris hinted at a third and far less obvious allusion hidden in the novel's title, which may also have served as the motive for writing the novel in the first place. Blair, he said, had in effect been a ghostwriter of sorts to President George W. Bush when giving public reasons for invading Iraq, arguing the case better than had the President, although attributing that better argument to Bush.[4]

The novel is dedicated to Robert Harris's wife Gill.

Film adaptation[edit]

In November 2007 it was announced that Roman Polanski was to direct the film version of the novel. He and Harris would be writing the script.[5] The cast was at first to consist of Nicolas Cage as the ghost, Pierce Brosnan as Adam Lang, with Tilda Swinton as Ruth Lang and Kim Cattrall as Lang's assistant Amelia Bly. Filming was delayed and a year later it was announced that Ewan McGregor would play the ghost instead of Cage and Olivia Williams would take over the role of Ruth Lang. The film was a French-German-British joint production, with Babelsberg Studios near Berlin having a central role and most scenes, especially those from Martha's Vineyard, were shot in Germany.[6] Harris was quoted as saying, "I want to be sure it's out before Tony Blair's own memoirs are published."[7]

Polanski was arrested by Swiss police in September 2009 on his way to the Zurich Film Festival. Babelsberg Studios initially announced that production was put on hold. However, Polanski continued working on post-production from his house arrest in Switzerland. The film, retitled The Ghost Writer, premiered at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival on 12 February 2010.[8][9]


  1. ^ Review in The Observer
  2. ^ Edemariam, Aida (27 September 2007). "I think Tony Blair would see the joke". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  3. ^ a b Bray, Christopher (13 November 2007). "The Blair Snitch Project: Thriller Pulps Britain's Ex-Prime Minister". New York Observer. Retrieved 22 July 2014.
  4. ^ National Public Radio interview, 31 October 2007.
  5. ^ Siegel, Tatiana (7 November 2007). "Roman Polanski returns with 'Ghost'". Variety. Reed Business Information. Retrieved 25 June 2008.
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 22 July 2009. Retrieved 7 August 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ Polanski to sex up tale of 'Tony Blair’s ghost' (subscription required)
  8. ^ Berlin Film Festival Program
  9. ^ Guardian Online

External links[edit]