Monday, October 24, 2011

The Ghost Writer

We may never judge a book by its cover because it is nailed into our heads even before we begin to learn the nursery rhymes. But, what happens when you have seen the film based on a book and that too a gripping one? You go to the book expecting to be in line with the film, maybe little clearer and the characters etched with more depth and empathy; that is all. No, not at all! You be ready to be surprised and even shocked as the book takes a totally different trajectory or to another realm.

This was the feeling I'd while reading  The Ghost Writer (the American imprint of The Ghost as published in the UK) by Robert Harris, which is adapted into a film by Roman Polanski.

The story is political thriller where a nameless London based ghost writer (the book is narrated in first person by the writer himself without ever letting out his real name), who is called into to finish the work on the memoirs of the former Prime Minister Adam Lang (a character said be based on Tony Blair), when the man working on them is found dead just a month before the deadline for submitting the manuscript to the publishers. So, the Ghost heads to the USA to be with Adam Lang and his team holed up in Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, the summer holiday home of the rich publisher Martin S. Rhinehart to finish the book. Obviously, the sailing isn't smooth as the Ghost had expected. First, the manuscript he has been given to work with is bland and needs overhauling. Second, Lang is very reluctant to open up about is youth and his years in Cambridge, and, there is discrepancy in what Lang says about his entry into politics and the actual version as the Writer finds out through his research. There is more to come in terms of thriller and conspiracy theory.

The film starring Pierce Brosnan as Adam Lang and Ewan McGregor in the title role is loyal to the book as far as the thriller part of the story.

But, what I loved about the book is the fact that at least half of it is a writer's manual, a ghost writer's manual to be precise without the dreaded 'Do it yourself' exercise with the process of writing dealt with in detail; from drawing the Contract to how to present yourself in front of your subject. Everyone of the seventeen chapters begins with a quote from Andrew Crofts' seminal book titled Ghostwriting thereby giving direction about how the story will move in the said chapter.

Couple of interesting passages from the book:

All good books are different but all bad books are exactly the same.

Of all human activities, writing is the one for which it is easiest to find excuses not to begin – the desk's too big, the desk's too small, there is too much noise, there is too much quiet, it's too hot, too cold, too early, too late. I had learned over the years to ignore them all, and simply start.

A book unwritten is a delightful universe of infinite possibilities. Set down one word, however, and immediately it becomes earthbound. Set down one sentence and it's halfway to being just like every other bloody book that's ever been written. But the best must never be allowed to drive out the good. In the absence of genius there is always craftmanship. One can at least try to write something which will arrest the reader's attention – which will encourage them, after reading the first paragraph, to take a look at the second, and then the third.
This in no way means that this book is very high funda or technical; it can be enjoyed by anyone who is interested in listening to a good story.

PS. Searching for this book was an experience in itself. It was last year in Bengaluru; I went into an upmarket book-store and asked for this book. At least half a dozen of sale-people converged around me and virtually emptied the whole of the 'Horror' section on my lap. Ma and my sister-in-law had a hard time explaining to them that I wasn't interested in horror stories but just wanted a novel titled The Ghost written by Robert Harris. In the end, they themselves had to dig it out from somewhere for me.


BB said...

Had seen the film..haven't read the book! :)

Amrita said...

Sounds interesting to me

Alexis said...

Excellent review. Now I have to see the movie as well read the book. Wish you a very happy and prosperous Diwali.

Anonymous said...

Very good review Paresh. I vaguely remember seeing the movie... or perhaps your vivid description makes me feel like I'm seeing the movie.

Hope you have a dhamaka Diwali!


harimohan said...

nice paresh makes me want to read the book and see the movie

Andrew Crofts said...

Good review, Paresh. Spookily, at the same time Roman Polanski was travelling to the island to film, I was invited by the futurologist, James Martin, to his private island in Bermuda, a visit which resulted in the book "The Change Agent - How to Create a Wonderful World".
Andrew Crofts
author of" Ghostwriting"

Tme said...

Good review....Paresh......keep posting often....