Incognito, Holes Up on Martha's Vineyard in Harris Novel
By Matthew Lynn
2 (Bloomberg) -- If Tony Blair finds himself sucking his Conway
Stewart pen while writing his memoirs, he could do worse than
to consult ``The Ghost'' by Robert Harris.
A neatly topical thriller, the story pivots
on Adam Lang, a recently retired prime minister who dragged the
U.K. into an unpopular war in the Mideast. Lang is holed up on
Martha's Vineyard, trying to finish his own memoirs and facing
a possible war-crimes indictment.
In the hands of Harris, a former journalist
who once covered Blair, ``The Ghost'' becomes both a political
adventure story and a thoughtful essay on the disappointments
of the Blair era, delivered with more insight than a dozen more
``Just name me one thing he did that Washington
wouldn't have approved of,'' a former British foreign secretary
says of Lang at one point. Needless to say, no one in the room
Lang isn't just based on Blair; he's a
facsimile of him. Yes, Harris has both insisted that Lang isn't
Blair and chucked in a few minor differences (no doubt to quiet
his publisher's lawyers). Yet it's Blair who leaps off the page.
Here we see the man of charm and insincerity whom Britons have
learned to loathe.
Into the story walks Harris's narrator,
``the ghost.'' He's a ghostwriter accustomed to churning out autobiographies
for footballers and minor celebrities. Lang's longtime political
aide, who was helping to write the memoirs, has just died. Our
hero is drafted by an anxious publishing house -- which paid $10
million for the book -- to finish the job.
As the ghost delves into Lang's past, he
unearths a conspiracy that puts his own life in peril and casts
the ``special relationship'' between Britain and the U.S. in a
whole new light. Without giving away the plot, suffice it to say
that Blair haters will come away with the sense of having dined
The novel is set in the two worlds Harris
knows best: politics and publishing. There are plenty of good
jokes at the expense of both. Rapacious agents, ramshackle publishing
conglomerates and frantic politicos fill the pages.
What really interests Harris, though, is
the chance to meditate on what drove his leader. ``I realized
I had a fundamental problem with our former prime minister,''
the ghost comments after reading the mind-numbingly tedious first
draft of Lang's memoirs.
``He was not a psychologically credible
character,'' he says. ``In the flesh, or on the screen, playing
the part of a statesman, he seemed to have a strong personality.
But somehow, when one sat down to think about him, he vanished.
This made it almost impossible for me to do my job.''
That point has often been made about Blair.
For all his enormous talents as a politician, he didn't seem to
believe in anything apart from his unswerving support for the
Harris is no embittered Tory. When he was
a reporter, Harris, if not quite a cheerleader of Blair, was certainly
on the same planet. Like much of the British public, he supported
Blair, and can still see his charm. Yet Harris wound up feeling
betrayed. That's the book's strength. Like many of us, he can't
quite understand how we put such an odd man in charge.
Harris's proffered solution to the mystery
of why his prime minister remained so slavishly loyal to a crazy
U.S. foreign policy involves a conspiracy that may be way off
the believability spectrum. Then again, maybe not.
All in all, this novel makes for a rattling
good yarn. And should Blair be in need of a ghostwriter, he could
certainly do worse than to give Harris a call.
``The Ghost'' is published by Hutchinson
in the U.K. and by Simon & Schuster in the U.S. (355 pages,
18.99 pounds, $26).
(Matthew Lynn is a columnist for Bloomberg.
The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer of this review: Matthew
Lynn in London at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Last Updated: October 2, 2007 01:34 EDT