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When talented young writer Nathan Zuckerman makes his pilgrimage to sit at the feet of his hero, the reclusive master of American Literature, E. I. Lonoff, he soon finds himself enmeshed in the great Jewish writer's domestic life, with all its complexity, artifice and drive for artistic truth. As Nathan sits in breathlessly awkward conversation with his idol, a glimpse of When talented young writer Nathan Zuckerman makes his pilgrimage to sit at the feet of his hero, the reclusive master of American Literature, E. I. Lonoff, he soon finds himself enmeshed in the great Jewish writer's domestic life, with all its complexity, artifice and drive for artistic truth. As Nathan sits in breathlessly awkward conversation with his idol, a glimpse of a dark-haired beauty through a closing doorway leaves him reeling. He soon learns that the entrancing vision is Amy Bellette, but her position in the Lonoff household - student? mistress? - remains tantalisingly unclear. Over a disturbed and confusing dinner, Nathan gleans snippets of Amy's haunting Jewish background, and begins to draw his own fantastical conclusions...


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When talented young writer Nathan Zuckerman makes his pilgrimage to sit at the feet of his hero, the reclusive master of American Literature, E. I. Lonoff, he soon finds himself enmeshed in the great Jewish writer's domestic life, with all its complexity, artifice and drive for artistic truth. As Nathan sits in breathlessly awkward conversation with his idol, a glimpse of When talented young writer Nathan Zuckerman makes his pilgrimage to sit at the feet of his hero, the reclusive master of American Literature, E. I. Lonoff, he soon finds himself enmeshed in the great Jewish writer's domestic life, with all its complexity, artifice and drive for artistic truth. As Nathan sits in breathlessly awkward conversation with his idol, a glimpse of a dark-haired beauty through a closing doorway leaves him reeling. He soon learns that the entrancing vision is Amy Bellette, but her position in the Lonoff household - student? mistress? - remains tantalisingly unclear. Over a disturbed and confusing dinner, Nathan gleans snippets of Amy's haunting Jewish background, and begins to draw his own fantastical conclusions...

30 review for The Ghost Writer

  1. 4 out of 5

    mark monday

    the boy ghost-writes the story of a girl's life. he turns her into a lure, a mystery, a travesty, into the best way to illustrate his Jewishness, the best way to thumb his nose at his parents and all the adults who would dare condescend to him. the boy is a writer, one who has yet to experience life. he doesn't create a story, he transcribes it. except for the story of the girl! that's all him, his projection onto her. he creates a narrative for the girl that barely takes the girl into considera the boy ghost-writes the story of a girl's life. he turns her into a lure, a mystery, a travesty, into the best way to illustrate his Jewishness, the best way to thumb his nose at his parents and all the adults who would dare condescend to him. the boy is a writer, one who has yet to experience life. he doesn't create a story, he transcribes it. except for the story of the girl! that's all him, his projection onto her. he creates a narrative for the girl that barely takes the girl into consideration, except for the basic facts that she is a girl and, like the boy, a Jew. the boy has a father, a loving father. a father who is angry with him right now. the boy doesn't like his father's anger, doesn't like that his father's anger calls into question the boy's loyalty to the Jewish kind. and so the boy ghost-writes his own life, trying to imagine a new father figure, and after that person shows that he is unsuitable for the job, he imagines another person as his new father figure. the boy will probably continue to do this, rather than try to understand his real father's anger. the boy needs to grow up. what is a story? that is the story within stories within a story that is The Ghost Writer. the novel was completely absorbing to me. I loved its slow dance with the idea of "storytelling", with the responsibility authors have when telling the stories of their subjects, with how each person is living in their own personal story. I loved its engagement with identity (Jewish and otherwise), with how we are defined and the conflict between how we define ourselves and how others may have a completely different definition of who we are. the story felt both intimately autobiographical and completely universal. I can't believe I've avoided Roth for so long. reading this was like being introduced to a new person who I should have been friends with for years. perhaps I will rewrite my story and pretend I've been friends with him all along! 13 of 16 in Sixteen Short Novels

  2. 5 out of 5

    Dave Schaafsma

    I read Roth when I was in my late teens and early twenties, and only returned to reading him in recent years. I thought The American Trilogy was amazing, as was The Plot Against America. The Ghost Writer is the first of ten books narrated by the autobiographically-oriented narrator Nathan Zuckerman, and first in the four-book Zuckerman Bound series. It depicts young short story writer Nathan visiting his literary hero I. E. Lonoff (supposedly a combination of Bernard Malamud and Henry Roth, two I read Roth when I was in my late teens and early twenties, and only returned to reading him in recent years. I thought The American Trilogy was amazing, as was The Plot Against America. The Ghost Writer is the first of ten books narrated by the autobiographically-oriented narrator Nathan Zuckerman, and first in the four-book Zuckerman Bound series. It depicts young short story writer Nathan visiting his literary hero I. E. Lonoff (supposedly a combination of Bernard Malamud and Henry Roth, two writers Roth himself idolized as a young writer). Nathan has published four stories at this early time in his career, and because of the early buzz gets invited to stay overnight at Lonoff’s house, where he finds his hero morose and a little resentful of the writing life, having published seven books but is, ugh, always working all the time. His wife also resents Lonoff’s relentless focus on his craft to the exclusion of real life. Quite a bit of the focus of the early book is on the writing life, discussions between the earnest young Nathan and his somewhat jaded, newly adopted mentor. Lonoff says, speaking somewhat unromantically of the writing life: “I turn sentences around. That's my life. I write a sentence and then I turn it around. Then I look at it and turn it around again. . .” I liked all that writing life talk quite a bit. I was initially less enamored with the focus on Jewish-Writer identity, and Zuckerman’s obsession with sex. Early on when I read him I loved his funny college-age lust stories in works such as Portnoy’s Complaint and Goodbye Columbus and Other Stories. Now, having Roth reflect back on those libidinous years via Zuckerman is a little annoying for me, though this may also just be an effect of my age. This is a common issue in Roth books, though, and can get tiresome, though he can be quite self-deprecatingly funny about it at times, too. So 1/3 of the way in the book I thought it was a merely good book, well-written, by one of our greatest living writers. And then it really took off, and the dialogue really begins to sing, as it can in the best of Roth’s works! Zuckerman’s writing gets him in conflict with his own family, which makes him initially resentful of his Newark family and his parents’s harping on his responsibility to his Jewish heritage. Then the identity of a (Jewish) woman who is a guest in the Lonoff home turns him around again, making him question anew issues of the responsibility of the writer to his writing, to life, family, and cultural identity. I’m not going to say anything specific about that woman, but it is a surprising and wonderful turn of events that elevates the novel to a new level. In the end I very much liked it. Yeah, I was seduced by Roth, and Zuckerman. A great start to the series and surely one of the best books of one of the best American authors.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Douglas

    How did this not win the Pulitzer? How has Roth not won a Nobel? This was one of the most brilliant works of art I've ever encountered. Far and away, the best book I've read all year. This is the type of book I always hope to encounter when I read fiction. Beautiful sentences, powerful dialogue, the kind of character tension that causes a reader to nearly explode. There were times I couldn't believe I was reading. It felt as if I were deposited into a farmhouse in the Berkshires, observing from How did this not win the Pulitzer? How has Roth not won a Nobel? This was one of the most brilliant works of art I've ever encountered. Far and away, the best book I've read all year. This is the type of book I always hope to encounter when I read fiction. Beautiful sentences, powerful dialogue, the kind of character tension that causes a reader to nearly explode. There were times I couldn't believe I was reading. It felt as if I were deposited into a farmhouse in the Berkshires, observing from Lonoff's American mantelpiece. Philip Roth does this with an almost perfect mastery of language. What's especially intriguing is that, from what I've read, Roth has sort of morphed into a Lonoff-type in the last few decades. His alter ego in this book, the young Nathan Zuckerman, was enamored by Lonoff's work and wanted more than anything to know the artist. Lonoff is based on Malamud or Henry Roth, presumably, and in this novel, Zuckerman (Roth) seemed to be accepting the torch as the new great American novelist. Yet, now, as we look at the recently retired Roth's own life and history, the young apprentice has become the Lonoff. Life imitating art or art becoming life. This is only my second Roth, but if they're all like this, I have at long last found my favorite writer.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    “I know the kind of man I am and the kind of writer. I have my own kind of bravery, and please, let’s leave it at that.” ― Philip Roth, The Ghost Writer I've read a ton of Roth, but have yet to really engage the Zuckerman series. The Ghost Writer is book one in the four book cycle Zuckerman Bound: 1. The Ghost Writer (1979) 2. Zuckerman Unbound (1981) 3. The Anatomy Lesson (1983) 4. The Prague Orgy (1985) It is hard to engage some of the more specific reasons WHY I loved this book -- without giving a “I know the kind of man I am and the kind of writer. I have my own kind of bravery, and please, let’s leave it at that.” ― Philip Roth, The Ghost Writer I've read a ton of Roth, but have yet to really engage the Zuckerman series. The Ghost Writer is book one in the four book cycle Zuckerman Bound: 1. The Ghost Writer (1979) 2. Zuckerman Unbound (1981) 3. The Anatomy Lesson (1983) 4. The Prague Orgy (1985) It is hard to engage some of the more specific reasons WHY I loved this book -- without giving away some of the more the dramatic elements. However, within that constraint I CAN say I loved how Roth explores both what it means to be a Jewish writer (with all the expectations that come with that occupation in a post-holocaust world) and what it means to be a fiction writer period. How art reflects life and life is impacted by the work and the flow of art. There are few living writers whose output I respect more than Philip Roth, and while I don't think his 80s novels stand up entirely to later novels, he is still stretching the limits of prose and dangling ideas and situations that are both entertaining and almost absurd.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Chapman

    I forgot how thrilling Roth can be. His books contain such a subtle, building power that hits about two-thirds the way through. (In particular I remember the eureka! moment with The Human Stain when its ideological weight revealed itself.) I don't want to get too much into the story, as the less a reader knows going in the better. Let's just say it's about young Nathan Zuckerman making a pilgrimage to the farmhouse of his idol, a man names Lonoff. The novel is really about what must be sacrifice I forgot how thrilling Roth can be. His books contain such a subtle, building power that hits about two-thirds the way through. (In particular I remember the eureka! moment with The Human Stain when its ideological weight revealed itself.) I don't want to get too much into the story, as the less a reader knows going in the better. Let's just say it's about young Nathan Zuckerman making a pilgrimage to the farmhouse of his idol, a man names Lonoff. The novel is really about what must be sacrificed in one's life for art, and whether that sacrifice is even worth it. This novel can be read in one sitting, but be ready for it to linger for days, maybe weeks.

  6. 4 out of 5

    [P]

    A friend of mine has recently broken up with his girlfriend, and I was telling him yesterday that it’s, y’know, not always a bad thing, that sometimes two people are simply not suited to each other. Those are hardly profound words, I know, but they started me thinking about an ex of mine. The girl and I, it’s fair to say, near-hated each other. I like to think neither of us were/are bad people; it was just that there was something about our personalities that did not mesh, that meant that we cou A friend of mine has recently broken up with his girlfriend, and I was telling him yesterday that it’s, y’know, not always a bad thing, that sometimes two people are simply not suited to each other. Those are hardly profound words, I know, but they started me thinking about an ex of mine. The girl and I, it’s fair to say, near-hated each other. I like to think neither of us were/are bad people; it was just that there was something about our personalities that did not mesh, that meant that we could barely look at each other without wanting to poke the other person’s eyes out with the blunt end of an axe. It was an Isreali-Palestinian type of deal. Anyway, one of our worst arguments was about whether it was a harmless impulse to want to meet famous people, or people of whom you are a fan. I said no; she said yes. To my mind, that impulse shows a lack of imagination, or ambition; it’s a weird kind of subjugation. I should make it clear that we were not discussing people networking or making contacts, e.g. people who want to meet a famous musician because they themselves want to break into the business, but rather the desire to meet someone purely because of who they are and what they have created/achieved. It doesn’t make any sense to me. I want no part of it. Not even Proust? she asked. No, not even Proust. What would I say? So, he wrote a great book. Big deal. He was probably as boring and conceited and immature as the rest of us. Talk to Proust! I hardly ever talk to my own mother. The Ghost Writer begins with a young Nathan Zuckerman arriving at the house of his hero, the writer E.I. Lonoff. To some extent he belongs to that category of people who want to use a famous person in order to get ahead, because, while being a fan of Lonoff, what he appears to be seeking is a mentor. Zuckerman is a short-story writer, has had one or two things praised and published and he sees in Lonoff an opportunity to further his career. Indeed, it seems as though Lonoff wasn’t even his first choice for the role, having first approached Felix Abravanel, another renowned author, but found the vital, vibrant Felix too interested in his own personality, his own still-flourishing life, to find satisfaction in helping a boy at the start of his. On this level the book reminded me very much of Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow, a writer who was, ironically enough, one of Roth’s own heroes. Lonoff like Humbold is essentially an old man, slightly embittered maybe [more so Humboldt], but certainly weary and dourly charismatic. In both books this older, wiser, more experienced man dispenses wisdom [life and literary] to his young charge. However, as the story progresses, as we get to know more about Nathan, and Lonoff and his wife and his student Amy, we come to realise that Roth’s novel is far more than merely a rewrite of Bellow’s, that is has great depth and richness. Indeed, it is a more profound read than Humboldt’s Gift itself. It is perhaps half way into the book that Nathan tells a story about a story [The Ghost Writer was written during Roth’s meta phase] he wrote and mailed to his father. This story told about a dramatic family argument over a legacy. When Nathan’s father reads the story he is upset by it, as he sees in it anti-semitic clichés i.e. a bunch of Jews fighting over money. Nathan and his father fall out over the story, and by the time he visits Lonoff they still haven’t patched things up. “I turn sentences around. That’s my life. I write a sentence and then I turn it around. Then I look at it and I turn it around again. Then I have lunch. Then I come back in and write another sentence. Then I have tea and turn the new sentence around. Then I read the two sentences over and turn them both around. Then I lie down on my sofa and think. Then I get up and throw them out and start from the beginning. And if I knock off from this routine for as long as a day, I’m frantic with boredom and a sense of waste.” So, in one sense Zuckerman is not only looking for a mentor, but also a new father, someone who will praise and, more importantly, understand him. Yet, that isn’t what grabbed me. More engaging were the questions raised by Roth, such as 'what does it mean to be Jewish?' and 'what responsibility does a Jewish person have towards his people?' The father thinks that Nathan ought to realise that by showing Jewish people as money-grubbers he is doing a disservice to his race, that he is propagating a harmful stereotype. Nathan, on the other hand, thinks that he was merely telling the truth, or being true to his story, and that is all that matters. He doesn’t want to shoulder any kind of responsibility for the Jewish people, he merely wants to be himself. In fact, one could say that only in being himself, only when race is not an issue, and someone isn’t a Jewish writer, but just a writer, with all the freedom that that entails, will racism no longer be an issue. I found this part of the novel fascinating. The Ghost Writer is a slim novel, but it doesn’t feel that way at all. This is all weighty stuff, deep and meaningful stuff. And it’s not all the book has to offer. I want to be careful of spoilers, but there is simply no way to discuss what I want to discuss without letting the cat out of the bag. In any case, I feel as though very few people will come to the book not knowing about Amy, and her secret, because every review I have ever seen mentions it. Amy is a friend of sorts of Lonoff’s; or he is perhaps more a surrogate father [yes, we’re back to fathers again]. She is of foreign origin, but was helped, by the writer, to come to America via England. She is a source of conflict between Lonoff and his wife, and masturbatory material for Nathan, but none of this is what is interesting about her. What is interesting about Amy is that she is, or might be, or is imagined by Nathan to be, Anne Frank, an Anne Frank who survived the concentration camps and has lived to be twenty six. Now, you might be rolling your eyes at this point, and certainly I did a couple of times while reading her story. However, once again, it raises some absorbing questions, like 'what would it mean if Anne Frank had survived?' The entire Anne Frank industry [and it is an industry] revolves around, and needs, her death. Frank, and Roth does discuss this, symbolises the persecution of the Jews during the Holocaust and, to an extent, Jewish persecution throughout the ages. No death, no symbol. Without Frank’s death there is no likeable, precocious, articulate young girl upon whom the world can dump its sympathies; no familiar, engaging, and pretty face for gentiles to stare at while feeling good about themselves for being upset about her plight and the plight, historically, of Jews-at-large. Without Frank’s death there would not be a symbol of Jewish normalcy, a Jew that gentiles can relate to. Yet, by having Frank survive, Roth makes a point made by many scholars: she was just one girl and should not be allowed to stand for, to symbolise, the atrocities of the Holocaust. Roth then takes this idea even further, because Nathan starts to fantasise about marrying Frank. He thinks: How could they [my family] accuse me of betraying my race, of fumbling my responsibility as a Jew if I marry this girl-symbol, the ultimate heroic Jewess! It’s both very funny and very moving. This is not, however, merely a novel of ideas. Roth’s writing is at its most controlled, its warmest here. He is, I think people sometimes forget, a wonderful stylist. The Ghost Writer is also one of his least controversial novels. Sure, the two female characters don’t exactly wield the kind of power that Zuckerman, Lonoff and his father do, and neither are particularly sympathetic, but there is surprisingly little here for feminists to [sometimes justifiably] get pissed off about. After finishing the book I came to realise that this is my kind of Roth: the nostalgic, sentimental, quietly, but powerfully intelligent Roth.

  7. 5 out of 5

    David

    The story itself is extremely good but the writing is outstanding. 4.5 stars

  8. 5 out of 5

    Connie G

    Nathan Zuckerman, a young short story writer hoping for a mentor, visits established writer E.I. Lonoff. Over a twenty-four hour period several conflicts arise showing the struggle between a writer's devotion to his craft, and the loyalty he feels toward his family and his cultural identity. The older writer has devoted his whole life to his writing while ignoring his own happiness and the needs of his wife. Zuckerman has written a short story about a true event in his family's life involving a d Nathan Zuckerman, a young short story writer hoping for a mentor, visits established writer E.I. Lonoff. Over a twenty-four hour period several conflicts arise showing the struggle between a writer's devotion to his craft, and the loyalty he feels toward his family and his cultural identity. The older writer has devoted his whole life to his writing while ignoring his own happiness and the needs of his wife. Zuckerman has written a short story about a true event in his family's life involving a dispute over money. His father does not want it published because it shows Jews in a stereotypical unflattering light. His father and a family friend put pressure on Zuckerman not to publish. The third thread of conflict occurs in Zuckerman's imagination where he pretends that a visiting young woman writer is really Anne Frank who has survived the Nazi concentration camps. The woman is conflicted whether she should reveal her identity to her aging father in Europe. If she was alive, it would reduce the literary importance of her diary. Author Philip Roth writes from the point of view of a Jewish writer. The various parts of the story are beautifully woven together showing the conflicting demands a writer faces, especially when he puts real experiences in his fiction. The need for a father figure also runs under the surface. Roth's writing is intelligent, showing both the humorous and tragic parts of life.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ken

    OK, so I read my Roth. Check. Haven't read him since the 80s, when I picked up Portnoy's Complain. Or maybe it was Goodbye, Columbus. One of those. Does it matter? This one was short (not all Roths are), well-written (I'm assuming all Roths are), and a "tweener" in that I could've 3-starred it as easily as 4-starred it but the 3.5 star is broken. For one, not much happens. Young upstart writer (Zuckerman) shows up at home of famous older author (Lonoff) and falls for mysterious young groupie girl OK, so I read my Roth. Check. Haven't read him since the 80s, when I picked up Portnoy's Complain. Or maybe it was Goodbye, Columbus. One of those. Does it matter? This one was short (not all Roths are), well-written (I'm assuming all Roths are), and a "tweener" in that I could've 3-starred it as easily as 4-starred it but the 3.5 star is broken. For one, not much happens. Young upstart writer (Zuckerman) shows up at home of famous older author (Lonoff) and falls for mysterious young groupie girl who likes daddy-types. One house. One night. One morning. Done. Oh. And, from the frantic imagination of Z-man, one hell of a cameo by Anne Frank, setting up one of the funniest lines about overzealous Jewish parents you'll ever read. RIP, good Mr. Roth. This one was for you.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    This novel, the first in a series, is about and narrated by Nathan Zuckerman. He is by many said to be the author’s alter-ego. Be that as it may, Zuckerman speaks of a time more than twenty years ago--when he was twenty-three and the year was 1956. He was then an aspiring author with four published short stories to his name. He has an idol, the elderly fellow author E.I. Lonoff. He is seeking Lonoff’s advice. Would he agree to become Zuckerman’s mentor? A meeting is arranged in Lonoff’s home. Lo This novel, the first in a series, is about and narrated by Nathan Zuckerman. He is by many said to be the author’s alter-ego. Be that as it may, Zuckerman speaks of a time more than twenty years ago--when he was twenty-three and the year was 1956. He was then an aspiring author with four published short stories to his name. He has an idol, the elderly fellow author E.I. Lonoff. He is seeking Lonoff’s advice. Would he agree to become Zuckerman’s mentor? A meeting is arranged in Lonoff’s home. Lonoff admires the young man’s work, and both have Jewish roots. When Zuckerman arrives, Lonoff, his wife and a beautiful young woman are there. Zuckerman is immediately struck by an infatuation for the pretty girl. Zuckerman and Lonoff talk. Zuckerman stays for dinner and the invitation is extended over the night. The story covers the events that occur before Zuckerman’s departure the following day. The art of writing is in my view the story’s central theme. Is it correct for an author to write of members of their own family? Even if names are not stated, readers may guess. Does a Jewish author have an obligation to portray Jews in a favorable light? The theme is carried further—how should an author behave toward a spouse? We observe the dysfunctional family situation in Lonoff’s household. We ask ourselves if Lonoff should be Zuckerman’s mentor. I have my doubts! Why only two stars? Because I do not like the book. For me it is merely OK. The questions raised are interesting, but it could have been told in a better way. The story is at times confusing, particularly when we are in Zuckerman’s head. He imagines the beautiful young woman to be (view spoiler)[Anne Frank. She has survived the holocaust (hide spoiler)] ! This is too bizarre for me. Zuckerman tell us of the events more than twenty years after they occur, and yet he fails to comment upon what he has in the interim leaned. Roth has forfeited an opportunity of making clear his views. Roth depicts Zuckerman’s sexual behavior crudely. His sexual drive is purely physical, without an emotional connection. I personally do not enjoy reading about dysfunctional family relationships. There is my final complaint. Malcolm Hillgartner narrates the audiobook. Had he paused at the appropriate places, had he emphasized important words, it would have been easier to understand the confusing parts. Words are clearly spoken, so the narration I am willing to give three stars. For me, he reads a bit too fast, but this can be easily adjusted. I have tried enough books by Roth. He is clearly not for me. ******************* *Portnoy's Complaint 1 star *American Pastoral 2 stars *The Ghost Writer 2 stars *Zuckerman Unbound not-for-me

  11. 5 out of 5

    JJ

    To 50% of the book, it was boring and a regular 4 star (tending to 3) read. Last 40% of the book was amazing, if whole book was like that, I would give it 5 stars. But, unfortunately, because it wasn't, I will give it a 4 star rating: 4.0. My 3rd Philip Roth book. Since it was my goal to read 3 books from Philip Roth, I am now done. Just kidding. I liked Roth so much that I will soon probably start reading Nemesis or American Pastoral. I recommend 'The Ghost Writer' to everyone that likes Roth. To 50% of the book, it was boring and a regular 4 star (tending to 3) read. Last 40% of the book was amazing, if whole book was like that, I would give it 5 stars. But, unfortunately, because it wasn't, I will give it a 4 star rating: 4.0. My 3rd Philip Roth book. Since it was my goal to read 3 books from Philip Roth, I am now done. Just kidding. I liked Roth so much that I will soon probably start reading Nemesis or American Pastoral. I recommend 'The Ghost Writer' to everyone that likes Roth.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Byrne

    I have a feeling Roth is one of those authors you read to make yourself feel smarter and end up questioning the number of IQ points you have. For someone who's received as many awards and accolades as he has, I found this book to be, well, boring. Boy meets his idol, sees girl, wants girl. End of story. Big woo. Maybe I missed something here, on the greater role the story plays in regards to society or some such nonsense, which is what makes me think my intelligence may not be up to the task of f I have a feeling Roth is one of those authors you read to make yourself feel smarter and end up questioning the number of IQ points you have. For someone who's received as many awards and accolades as he has, I found this book to be, well, boring. Boy meets his idol, sees girl, wants girl. End of story. Big woo. Maybe I missed something here, on the greater role the story plays in regards to society or some such nonsense, which is what makes me think my intelligence may not be up to the task of figuring out what the hell was so great about this book. I tried reading The Human Stain some time ago. Dirty old man uses Viagra to get it on with a younger woman who doesn't know any better. Again. Big woo. Sigh. I guess I'll have to say unfortunately, Mr. Roth, you are not for me. And I did so want to feel smarter for having read your work.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lobstergirl

    Philip Roth first introduces his alter ego, the 23-year-old aspiring writer Nathan Zuckerman, in The Ghost Writer. It’s 1956 and Zuckerman has managed to attract the attention of his literary idol, the Jewish immigrant writer E.I. Lonoff, who lives in an isolated farmhouse in the Berkshire Mountains of New England with his wife Hope. Zuckerman pays a visit and finds himself the object of flattering attention and conversation from the Babel-esque Lonoff. (“Because I could not bring myself to utte Philip Roth first introduces his alter ego, the 23-year-old aspiring writer Nathan Zuckerman, in The Ghost Writer. It’s 1956 and Zuckerman has managed to attract the attention of his literary idol, the Jewish immigrant writer E.I. Lonoff, who lives in an isolated farmhouse in the Berkshire Mountains of New England with his wife Hope. Zuckerman pays a visit and finds himself the object of flattering attention and conversation from the Babel-esque Lonoff. (“Because I could not bring myself to utter even the mildest obscenity in front of Lonoff’s early American mantelpiece…”) Also at the farmhouse during Zuckerman’s brief stay is Amy Bellette, a former college student of the famous writer who is organizing his papers and with whom Zuckerman becomes instantly obsessed. The novella takes place over the day and a half Zuckerman spends at the house, with several flashbacks. One of these flashbacks is to Newark, New Jersey, where Zuckerman has an argument with his father over a newly written story, “Higher Education.” The story describes the extended Zuckerman family feuding over an inheritance. Mr. Zuckerman feels that Gentiles reading it will come away with a very different impression than Jews, namely that Jews are greedy kikes. He enlists an old family friend and pillar of the community, Judge Leopold Wapter, to write Zuckerman and try to persuade him not to publish the story. Wapter and his wife compile a survey of ten (utterly hilarious) questions they’d like Zuckerman to ask himself about the story. The last one is “Can you honestly say that there is anything in your short story that would not warm the heart of a Julius Streicher or a Joseph Goebbels?” Zuckerman, and by extension all Jewish writers, are seen as bearing the responsibility for how Jews are perceived. Zuckerman is furious with his father and resents what he and Judge Wapter are trying to do. He concocts an elaborate fantasy that Amy Bellette is Anne Frank, who actually survived Belsen and came to America to live incognito, and that he will marry her. As the Ur-Jew, Amy-Anne will be the amulet that protects Zuckerman from all criticism that he is hurting the Jews. Zuckerman will be able to introduce Amy to his family and trump anything they might say. The first two chapters (which constitute approximately the first three-fourths of the novel) verged on perfection for me. Roth’s writing is calmly, unobtrusively spectacular: When I had recently raised [Lonoff’s] name before the jury at my first Manhattan publishing party – I’d arrived, excited as a starlet, on the arm of an elderly editor – Lonoff was almost immediately disposed of by the wits on hand as thought it were comical that a Jew of his generation, an immigrant child to begin with, should have married the scion of an old New England family and lived all these years “in the country” – that is to say, in the goyish wilderness of birds and trees where American began and long ago had ended. A flashback involving another Jewish writer, Felix Abravanel, and his much younger paramour (“after graduating from Sarah Lawrence, she had evidently continued her education at Elizabeth Arden and Henri Bendel”), is brilliant. Abravanel is said to be modeled on Saul Bellow. His “charm was like a moat so oceanic that you could not even see the great turreted and buttressed thing it had been dug to protect.” At a talk at the University of Chicago, Abravanel “had to pause at the lectern, seemingly to suppress saying something off the cuff that would have been just too charming for his audience to bear. And he was right. We might have charged the stage to eat him up alive if he had been any more sly and enchanting and wise.” The second chapter concludes with Zuckerman masturbating on Lonoff’s study sofa to thoughts of Amy Bellette, reading a Henry James short story about a writer with an adoring acolyte (to “expiate” for the masturbation), and eavesdropping through the floorboards on a possibly racy scene upstairs between Lonoff and Amy. My attention began to waver as Zuckerman launched on his Anne Frank fantasy, and I tried to figure out: is this in Amy’s head? Does Amy really believe this? Only after the Anne Frank fantasy chapter came to an end did I realize it was in Zuckerman’s head. The surreality of it felt a bit like a divergence from the path the novel had been on, but at the same time it seems necessary in order for Roth’s themes to hold together. The father, the father-child conflict, is a focal point: there is Zuckerman’s father and the recent conflict between them; Zuckerman is visiting Lonoff petitioning to be his spiritual son; Zuckerman’s fantasy includes Otto Frank as Anne/Amy Bellette’s “father” whom she betrays by refusing to make contact with him after surviving Belsen; and there is Lonoff as Amy Bellette’s substitute Otto Frank. I don’t know what a satisfactory ending would have been. Roth chooses to have Amy (who has possibly been having an affair with Lonoff, unless that was all in Zuckerman’s head…) (view spoiler)[leave her curatorial position, leaving Hope in her rightful place as wife. But as Zuckerman and Amy are sitting downstairs waiting to leave the farmhouse, Hope decides she is going to depart the marriage and let Amy have Lonoff. Lonoff repeatedly urges Hope to stay. Then Amy drives away, and Hope walks off into the snow with Lonoff following. (hide spoiler)] The conflict between these two women was one of the things that made me uncomfortable in the novel, and I can’t say I really enjoyed either character, or this final chapter. Who is the Ghost Writer? There are three writers in the novel (if we exclude Abravanel): Lonoff, Zuckerman, and Anne Frank. Anne Frank is the only one of these who is dead, or a “ghost.” (Going a layer deeper, of course there are the conspiracy theorists who suggest Otto Frank ghostwrote Anne’s diary.) Is Lonoff the ghost, removed from the real world, isolated in the woods of the Berkshires? Is Zuckerman the ghost writer – in his father’s eyes, obligated to write positive things about the Jews – writing on behalf of ghosts – the dead of the Holocaust? One of the things the novel is about is what it means to be a Jew in America. Zuckerman notes early on that “my own first reading through Lonoff’s canon…had done more to make me realize how much I was still my family’s Jewish offspring than anything I had carried forward to the University of Chicago from childhood Hebrew lessons, or mother’s kitchen, or the discussions I used to hear among my parents and our relatives about the perils of intermarriage, the problem of Santa Claus, and the injustice of medical-school quotas (quotas that, as I understood early on, accounted for my father’s career in chiropody and his ardent lifelong support of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation League).” I’m excited now to read the rest of the Zuckerman novels. I had begun with Exit Ghost, which was quite good. It contained references to Lonoff and Amy Bellette. Now when I reread it, I’ll understand them.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    I probably knew too much going into this story, though it's because of what I knew beforehand that I read it in the first place. If you're someone who's interested in the way writers think, you should enjoy it. Example: the narrator's lament about his imagination being lacking, that he could never invent a scene like the one he's just overheard, is both playful and serious. It was also fun to speculate on whom Roth might be basing his fictional 'big' literary figures. The narrator, talking to his I probably knew too much going into this story, though it's because of what I knew beforehand that I read it in the first place. If you're someone who's interested in the way writers think, you should enjoy it. Example: the narrator's lament about his imagination being lacking, that he could never invent a scene like the one he's just overheard, is both playful and serious. It was also fun to speculate on whom Roth might be basing his fictional 'big' literary figures. The narrator, talking to his literary hero, makes a case for linking these fictional literary figures with a real writer, Isaac Babel. As I was reading the book, there was more than once that I made a connection from Roth to Auster -- at least in this book, there are themes that Auster (whom I've read quite a bit of) employs as well, including the use of 'real' people with fictional ones, and for some of the same reasons. The only Roth I read prior to this was Goodbye, Columbus and while I'm guessing that the reception of that novella led to much of this book, I know reading it didn't inspire me to read more by him. This novel did.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Michael Finocchiaro

    Nathan Zuckerman reminded me of Herzog a bit. This first book of the Zuckerman Bound series was funny and witty and quite ingenious with the first person narrative and the frequent flights of narrative fantasy. I fear that delving too much into the other characters would spoil the pleasure for a potential reader so let me just say that Roth here turns simple overnight story with four characters into a Calvino-esque reflection on the distance between the writer and his written subject. A quick bu Nathan Zuckerman reminded me of Herzog a bit. This first book of the Zuckerman Bound series was funny and witty and quite ingenious with the first person narrative and the frequent flights of narrative fantasy. I fear that delving too much into the other characters would spoil the pleasure for a potential reader so let me just say that Roth here turns simple overnight story with four characters into a Calvino-esque reflection on the distance between the writer and his written subject. A quick but very rewarding read. I highly recommend going through the Zuckerman books in order: The Ghost Writer (this one), Zuckerman Unbound, The Anatomy Lesson, The Prague Orgy, Operation Shylock, The Counterlife, The American trilogy: American Pastoral, I Married a Communist, The Human Stain, and ESPECIALLY do not forget to read the conclusion - the wonderful Exit Ghost which forms a perfect reflection of The Ghost Writer.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Maida

    A literary critic for the Chicago Tribune once wrote that "in American literature today, there's Philip Roth, and then there's everybody else." I couldn't agree more. Roth is, without doubt, my favorite writer of all time. *4.75/5 stars* The Ghost Writer was a 1980 Pulitzer Prize finalist, a 1980 National Book Critics Circle Award (NBCCA) finalist & a 1980 National Book Award finalist. A literary critic for the Chicago Tribune once wrote that "in American literature today, there's Philip Roth, and then there's everybody else." I couldn't agree more. Roth is, without doubt, my favorite writer of all time. *4.75/5 stars* The Ghost Writer was a 1980 Pulitzer Prize finalist, a 1980 National Book Critics Circle Award (NBCCA) finalist & a 1980 National Book Award finalist.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Vegantrav

    A few weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast, Slate's Culture Gabfest, and The Ghost Writer was discussed and highly praised, with one of the hosts acclaiming it as Roth's best work, so I decided to read it to see if it really were all that great. Well, it wasn't the greatest work of fiction I've ever read, but I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Roth spins several subplots, and each is as intriguing, if not more so, than the main plot, or perhaps that is what makes the entire story A few weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast, Slate's Culture Gabfest, and The Ghost Writer was discussed and highly praised, with one of the hosts acclaiming it as Roth's best work, so I decided to read it to see if it really were all that great. Well, it wasn't the greatest work of fiction I've ever read, but I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Roth spins several subplots, and each is as intriguing, if not more so, than the main plot, or perhaps that is what makes the entire story work so well: the subplots are not mere entertaining tangents but vital braces that bring the entire story together. The fine detail in which Roth paints his characters, with all their agonizing foibles and shortcomings as well as their virtues, endears them to us, makes them people that we actually know and care about. And Roth brings these characters to life not by endless, boring description but by telling us stories about them; he understands that the key to understanding someone is far more than describing personality traits or likes and dislikes: rather, to get to know a person, we need to know that person's story. ***SPOILER ALERT*** I really loved the third chapter in The Ghost Writer, "Femme Fatale," in which the protagonist, Nathan Zuckerman, lets his imagination run wild and speculates that the enchanting and mysterious Amy, whom he has just met, is actually Anne Frank, who, unbeknownst to anyone, managed to survive the Holocaust and keep her true identity a secret to the world. This chapter could stand alone as a brilliant short story. Furthermore, Roth tells this tale with so many concrete details and such a plausible explanation that one cannot come away from it without wondering if perhaps Anne Frank really did survive, and therein lies the genius of Roth.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Michael Compton

    The centerpiece of this novel is young writer Nathan Zuckerman crushing on Anne Frank, re-imagining her as a Holocaust survivor in the person of a young woman he has just met and has the hots for. It's a tour de force of writing and imagination, of which Philip Roth is certainly aware. It's also a funny and creepy idea, of which he must also be aware, but hey, the "girl" (and I use that word advisedly) is just so dang hot, he doesn't have time for all that. This is a readable and erudite book th The centerpiece of this novel is young writer Nathan Zuckerman crushing on Anne Frank, re-imagining her as a Holocaust survivor in the person of a young woman he has just met and has the hots for. It's a tour de force of writing and imagination, of which Philip Roth is certainly aware. It's also a funny and creepy idea, of which he must also be aware, but hey, the "girl" (and I use that word advisedly) is just so dang hot, he doesn't have time for all that. This is a readable and erudite book that also has the virtue of being reasonably short. Unfortunately, it is a book about a young writer (yawn) who has upset his family by writing about them in an unflattering way (tired, but well done), who goes to meet his idol The Great Writer (give me a break), where he meets an alluring young woman who seems to have no purpose but to be the object of desire for Men of Genius (gag). I read "Goodbye Columbus" many years ago and enjoyed it, but with some nagging doubts in the back of my mind. Since then, I have come back to Roth several times--partly in hope of alleviating those doubts--but with every book I only like him less. As a writer he has many virtues, but I just can't get past that tedious, self-absorbed character at the center of it all. If Woody Allen were a novelist who took himself twice as seriously and was half as funny, he'd be Philip Roth.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    Lonoff sums up his life: "I wish," he said, "I knew that much about anything. I've written fantasy for thirty years. Nothing happens to me." ... “I turn sentences around. That’s my life. I write a sentence and then I turn it around. Then I look at it and I turn it around again. Then I have lunch. Then I come back in and write another sentence. Then I have tea and turn the new sentence around. Then I read the two sentences over and turn them both around. Then I lie down on my sofa and think. Then Lonoff sums up his life: "I wish," he said, "I knew that much about anything. I've written fantasy for thirty years. Nothing happens to me." ... “I turn sentences around. That’s my life. I write a sentence and then I turn it around. Then I look at it and I turn it around again. Then I have lunch. Then I come back in and write another sentence. Then I have tea and turn the new sentence around. Then I read the two sentences over and turn them both around. Then I lie down on my sofa and think. Then I get up and throw them out and start from the beginning. And if I knock off from this routine for as long as a day, I’m frantic with boredom and a sense of waste.” ― Philip Roth, The Ghost Writer

  20. 5 out of 5

    David B

    A young writer spends a weekend with his idol, who is a celebrated novelist, the novelist’s wife, and a mysterious young woman whom they are also hosting. Philip Roth’s short novel is beautifully written and rich with meditations on whether the writer’s responsibility to his art overrides the discomfort it may produce in the people in his life and community. Indeed, it raises the question of whether producing such discomfort may be the serious writer’s most important function. It may seem a litt A young writer spends a weekend with his idol, who is a celebrated novelist, the novelist’s wife, and a mysterious young woman whom they are also hosting. Philip Roth’s short novel is beautifully written and rich with meditations on whether the writer’s responsibility to his art overrides the discomfort it may produce in the people in his life and community. Indeed, it raises the question of whether producing such discomfort may be the serious writer’s most important function. It may seem a little too “inside baseball” for those who aren’t inherently fascinated by the art of writing, just as movies about making movies can seem to me. https://thericochetreviewer.blogspot.com

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ayelet Waldman

    This is my favorite of his novels, I think. Or at least it is this week.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    20 Books of Summer Challenge Book 3 THE GHOST WRITER by Philip Roth ⭐⭐⭐⭐ I came to Roth rather late and my initial experience was not great. THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA and I MARRIED A COMMUNIST won me over though. Acerbic, iconoclastic, tearing into the world that made him, challenging the norms of conservative Jewish culture, Roth continues to resonate not only about the insights he gives into the American Jewish experience but also a lesson he provides on how to write, how to distill ideas through 20 Books of Summer Challenge Book 3 THE GHOST WRITER by Philip Roth ⭐⭐⭐⭐ I came to Roth rather late and my initial experience was not great. THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA and I MARRIED A COMMUNIST won me over though. Acerbic, iconoclastic, tearing into the world that made him, challenging the norms of conservative Jewish culture, Roth continues to resonate not only about the insights he gives into the American Jewish experience but also a lesson he provides on how to write, how to distill ideas through almost manic prose that is both challenging and aesthetically pleasing I grabbed this short audiobook of one of Roth's earlier works because its one of the earlier Nathan Zuckerman books, a narrator that would become a key literary device Roth uses (especially in his American century trilogy). Here we are introduced to a young Zuckerman, a fledgling author facing criticisms from family in community for fiction, similar to the backlash Roth faced after publishing GOODBYE COLUMBUS, which elders accused of relying on stereotypes of Jews. Roth faces these head on, interlaced with a visit to a secluded author who is one of his heroes, only to discover the limits and dangers of success. There is a lot going on here but what was most striking is how Roth's work is often in direct conversation with his readers, critics, and his own work. It's only the enormous significance of these novels and short stories that lets Roth get away with this without coming off as too self indulgent. It is self indulgent obviously. But I'm also fascinated by this back and forth. When an author of heavy literary fiction was so culturally significant that his self reflections was something millions wanted to read about, one wants to understand why. Literary fiction tends to be on the margins these days (as most cultural products become more niche) so getting a glimpse to books that were ubiquitous is a fascinating exercise as a reader. #bookstagram #booksofinstagram #igbooks #books #reader #book #read #readingchallenge #20booksofsummer #philiproth #theghostwriter #nathanzuckerman #bookreviews #pulitzerprize #nationalbookaward #bookworm #audiobooks #libbyapp #library

  23. 4 out of 5

    Eve Kay

    Roth has a real way with words, though I found that I prefered Portnoy's Complaint because of all the complaining. It seems that Roth has a real way with complaining is what I should say. There is an air of complaining in this book since Zuckerman goes through some inner dialogue and recounts past events which cause some annoyance for him but not enough I guess for my liking. The characters are great, odd enough for me, but I guess the build up in the middle of the story didn't seem interesting fo Roth has a real way with words, though I found that I prefered Portnoy's Complaint because of all the complaining. It seems that Roth has a real way with complaining is what I should say. There is an air of complaining in this book since Zuckerman goes through some inner dialogue and recounts past events which cause some annoyance for him but not enough I guess for my liking. The characters are great, odd enough for me, but I guess the build up in the middle of the story didn't seem interesting for me. The book ended great and I want to read more of Zuckerman because of it, I didn't really care for his ponderings but I guess I wanna know what becomes of Lonoff.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Aiden Heavilin

    The word that occurred to me throughout "The Ghost Writer" was competent. This is one of those books where people sit around complaining to each other about art; Gaddis can get away with it in "The Recognitions" because he can describe fingers as looking like "prehensile udders". Roth isn't quite so talented. This is a perfectly safe and dull novel in which people do very little, but everybody seems quite serious about doing it. The word that occurred to me throughout "The Ghost Writer" was competent. This is one of those books where people sit around complaining to each other about art; Gaddis can get away with it in "The Recognitions" because he can describe fingers as looking like "prehensile udders". Roth isn't quite so talented. This is a perfectly safe and dull novel in which people do very little, but everybody seems quite serious about doing it.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    I first read this about two years after it was published - (1981-ish... tempus fugit). I'd forgotten all about the Anne Frank fantasy section of this book... awesome! Simple writing, but very engaging for me. A great read if you enjoy Roth's work. I first read this about two years after it was published - (1981-ish... tempus fugit). I'd forgotten all about the Anne Frank fantasy section of this book... awesome! Simple writing, but very engaging for me. A great read if you enjoy Roth's work.

  26. 4 out of 5

    D

    Beautiful, short but pleasantly dense, story. This is the first book introducing Zuckerman, with hints on what is to come in the eight subsequent Zuckerman novels. See the full list. Beautiful, short but pleasantly dense, story. This is the first book introducing Zuckerman, with hints on what is to come in the eight subsequent Zuckerman novels. See the full list.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jason Pettus

    (Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com:]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.) All right, I admit it -- I'm not the biggest fan of postmodernism, for a whole host of reasons that are sometimes related to each other, sometimes not: because of the movement's insistence, for example, that the only "true" artists are ones with advanced college degrees; because of its worship of col (Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com:]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.) All right, I admit it -- I'm not the biggest fan of postmodernism, for a whole host of reasons that are sometimes related to each other, sometimes not: because of the movement's insistence, for example, that the only "true" artists are ones with advanced college degrees; because of its worship of cold irony and empty pop culture; because of its smug liberal platitudes and warm embrace of moral relativism; because every single famous example of it tends to be some intolerable novel about snot-nosed professors having pointless affairs with their 19-year-old students; because of how frighteningly easy it was for the Bush administration to use the mechanics of postmodernism to sell a form of quasi-fascism to an uneducated, celebrity-obsessed American public; because it was the artistic movement most favored by the generation right before mine (dirty f-cking hippies), so of course part of me is just going to naturally rebel against it; because my own generation (the so-called "Generation X") was especially good at postmodernism during its popular height in the 1990s, and if there's one group of people I hate more than dirty f-cking hippies, it's bitter paleocon-embracing hipster-douchebag Gen-Xers; and on and on and on in this vein ad nauseam. But the longer I run my arts center, the more I'm coming to realize just how many of these issues are simply personal biases in my life that I should learn to get over; because as an arts critic, it's my job to know as much as possible about every artistic movement in history, and especially one so recent and that still so heavily influences even the brand-new novels coming out to this day. And so that's had me slowly starting to explore postmodernist literature whenever the mood strikes me, and especially looking at the beginning of the movement in the early 1960s (see for example my review earlier this year of Richard Yates' 1963 Revolutionary Road, widely considered one of the first postmodernist novels ever written), back when it was mostly an intellectual response to the Modernist movement right before even it, and not yet so co-opted and twisted by an all-pervasive consumerist-lifestyle advertising industry like what happened near the end of the movement's history. (Oh, and that's something else to know if you don't already, that I consider postmodernism to have officially died on September 11th, although had been going through its death throes for years before that, and that for the last decade the arts have been going through the beginning of a new movement that simply hasn't been named yet. The "Sincerist" movement, perhaps? With Michael Chabon and Radiohead being its first two truly great masters?) Anyway, so all this has gotten me more and more interested recently in the work of Philip Roth; he's not only considered one of the titans of postmodernist literature (within such company as John Updike, Gore Vidal, Don DeLillo and a lot more), but I've actually read and loved one of his novels already, 2004's "alternative history" thriller and Bush slam The Plot Against America, making it more likely that I'm going to enjoy his earlier work as well. (This is compared to, say, Norman Mailer, whose work I also really need to sit down and comprehensively read one day, but in that case will be a navel-gazing chore I'm actually kind of dreading.) And hey, turns out that Roth has already created an easy framework for following along with his maturation over the years into a pillar of postmodernism; namely, within his overall prodigious ouevre, he has over the decades published a remarkable nine-book series known as the "Zuckerman" tales, named after the Nathan Zuckerman character who appears in them all (sometimes as the protagonist, sometimes as just a bystander), a character that Roth has very clearly identified in the past as an autobiographical stand-in for himself, and whose fate largely follows Roth's own over the years. And in fact, as my smartass remark earlier about Mailer indicates, this is in general yet another common trait in postmodernism, a certain obsession with self-reflection and self-examination; when such a thing is done right, its fans say, it produces a kind of powerful emotional truth about the world impossible to gain in the arts otherwise, while critics complain that it more often than not leads simply to an unreadable mishmash of mental masturbation. For example, although not actually written until 1979, Roth's first Zuckerman book The Ghost Writer is set twenty years earlier in 1959, at the beginning not only of the postmodernist movement but also Roth's real-life career; and the Zuckerman we find in it is just starting out as well, a kid in his twenties with a series of attention-grabbing short stories now published in various prestigious literary journals, and with a favorable profile of him recently appearing in one of those "Hot New Authors" articles in one of those New Yorker type magazines. And this is yet something else important to understand about postmodernism -- that although we take it for granted now (and in fact is viewed by many now as an antiquated process to be gotten rid of), it was the postmodernist writers who were the very first to come of age within this Modernist-created academically-based strict hierarchal definition of artistic success (stories in respected journals out of college, which lead to full books from respected presses, followed by retrospectives at respected museums, with plenty of grants and fellowships and awards and workshops and honorary degrees thrown in along the way), a path considered the height of sophistication right around the Kennedy years when so many of the most famous postmodernists all got their starts. All this newfound press, then, has brought Zuckerman to the attention of his literary hero, a writer named E.I. Lonoff who seems to be sort of a combination of Saul Bellows and J.D. Salinger; entering old age in the late 1950s, he is one of the only Jewish-American authors in history so far to gain a national audience for his work, which has driven him to a point of almost no contact with the general public, making it that much more special when one receives an invitation to dine at his rural upstate New York farmhouse, the one he shares with his WASPy New England goyim wife, much to the consternation of all the Manhattan-dwelling Jewish intellectuals who were once his pre-war peers and friends. This is exactly the kind of dining invitation Zuckerman receives at the beginning of The Ghost Writer; and then the novel itself is not much more than a record of his evening there, as Zuckerman has a series of conversations with Lonoff, witnesses a fight between he and his wife, drinks too much to be able to get home safely, and ends up spending the night on Lonoff's sofa while thinking very intensely about a bunch of stuff. And in fact this is yet again another hallmark of postmodernism, the habit within so many of these novels for almost nothing to actually "happen," which again as I've mentioned here in the past comes with both its defenders and detractors; fans say that within postmodernism it is the "inner lives" of the characters that are most important, and that contemporary literature no longer needs the soap-opera plot machinations of the Victorian Age in order to be a great story, while critics say that this is merely a reflection of postmodernism's tendency for all its most famous authors to be boring ol' do-nothing professors themselves (as opposed to Modernist authors like Hemingway and Fitzgerald who went around driving ambulances and fighting bulls and, you know, doing stuff), and that all this merely adds to the navel-gazing masturbation the movement is already so guilty of. Or in other words, the movement's ever-increasing frequency over the years towards confessional novels about whiny authors writing confessional novels about whiny authors writing confessional novels, which is where we get the postmodernist term "metafiction," which critics claim is simply a fancy word for "circle jerk." And so what are these things that Zuckerman ends up drunkenly pondering on Lonoff's sofa in the middle of the night? Well, that's a very interesting question, really the main point of reading The Ghost Writer to begin with, because it turns out that it's three main things that Zuckerman spends the novel mostly thinking about, all of them having to do with modern Judaism in a post-Nazi world... --First, he spends a lot of time pondering the "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" style fight between the Lonoffs that he witnessed earlier in the evening, and what it might say about the natural complications that come with any marriage between a Jew and a Gentile in mid-20th-Century America, no matter what the circumstances; --Then he gets to thinking about his latest short story, a true recollection of a money-based neighborhood fight he once witnessed as a child, which even pre-publication has turned into his most popular story among those who have now read it, but that has inspired horror among all his Jewish relatives, convinced that the story will do nothing but bolster the anti-Semitic view of Jews as greedy, finance-obsessed shysters; --Which then finally gets him thinking about the beautiful, mysterious eastern-European writing protege of Lonoff's who had also joined them for dinner earlier in the night, and pondering what the world would be like if she turned out to be none other than Anne Frank herself, who somehow miraculously managed to survive the concentration camps at the end of World War Two, but whose identification was lost during the chaos of it all, and of why it might be that a young woman in that position might actually prefer to stay anonymous after the war is over, and after her teenaged diary has become such a lynchpin for modern postwar Jewish/Gentile relations. And that really gets us to the heart of The Ghost Writer, and why it is that Roth is widely considered one of the most important Jewish-American authors in our country's history; because as Roth himself so indelicately reminds us in this book, before the rise of postmodernism and writers exactly like him, the most famous Jewish author in history had actually been a dead 15-year-old girl, and the most important thing she ever wrote was that despite the Holocaust, she still found herself with a desperate desire to get laid. It's very easy to forget this, but as little as 50 years ago, a term like "Jewish humor" was most likely to conjure up racist images from vaudeville and folktales, big-nosed Shylocks greedily rubbing their hands together in anticipation of yet another bulging bag of precious gold, versus the images now of Woody Allen and Jerry Seinfeld and wry urban wit like so many of us think of these days when hearing the term. And it's no accident that the world changed this way, either, but was instead due to the deliberate efforts of writers exactly like Roth, an entire generation of young post-Holocaust Jews who dared to openly discuss the normal day-to-day conflicts found within the Jewish community, without worrying as their parents did that such a thing would simply contribute to another future round of yellow stars and gas chambers. It's an incredibly easy thing to forget when reading these seminal books in our contemporary times, ironically because of these writers ending up being so successful at what they were trying to accomplish; so successful, in fact, that much of what is played for serious drama in these early novels has ended up over the decades getting played for laughs by a whole generation of Jewish artists after them. For a good example, look at how with just a little re-wording, what turns out to be the most tension-filled scene in The Ghost Writer can easily start sounding like that Seinfeld episode where Jerry gets caught making out during Schindler's List... "Oh, I see -- my son the writer now feels the need to write stories that please Herr Joseph Goebbels." "Ma!" "Oh, never mind me. What do I know? I'm just the mother of a self-hating anti-Semite, that's all." "Ma, will you stop it?" "Oh, I'll stop. I'll stop as soon as God whisks me off to hell for bringing a self-hating anti-Semite into the world. Strike me down now, God! Strike down this unworthy mother of a self-hating anti-Semite right this second!" "MA!!!" It's a testament to Roth, really, that what he means to be serious drama in The Ghost Writer now reads so unintentionally funny; it's a testament to how successful he and the other Jewish writers of the postmodernist age all were, that they could create a situation where even most non-Jews now have at least a basic knowledge of and appreciation for the ebb and flow of normal Jewish life, versus such give-and-takes in the past simply reinforcing the pervasive anti-Jewish sentiments so rampant around the planet before the Holocaust. It's essentially a normalization process, which the Jews of Roth's parents' generation were terrified of, because it was impossible for them to picture a world where Jewish life would ever seem "normal" in the eyes of most non-Jews; so what an astounding feat that these postmodernists of Roth's generation actually pulled it off, to the extent that a show like Seinfeld half a century later could end up being as thoroughly embraced by mainstream Christian America as it was. So when all is said and done, maybe I actually have been a little too tough on postmodernism in general; although I still argue that the movement's excesses in the second half of its history are rightly worthy of scorn and derision, which also like I said may just mostly be my way of naturally rebelling against what was most popular with the generation of artists right before mine. In any case, I'm for sure extremely glad that I've decided to take on Roth's Zuckerman stories in the first place, and am now highly looking forward to the second book in the series, 1981's even more self-referential Zuckerman Unbound. As always, I'll be posting my thoughts about that here as soon as they're ready.

  28. 4 out of 5

    robin friedman

    The Ghost Writer I had been reading the late Philip Roth's (1933 -- 2018) novels and exhausted those readily available in the local library. I paid an all-too-rare visit to the only walk-in used book store in my neighborhood, now, sadly, also gone. The book store didn't have the Roth novel I hoped to find, but I bought an inexpensive used hardback copy of this book, "The Ghost Writer" (1979) instead. It was a lucky find. I had just read Roth's novel, "Exit Ghost" (2007), written 28 years after "T The Ghost Writer I had been reading the late Philip Roth's (1933 -- 2018) novels and exhausted those readily available in the local library. I paid an all-too-rare visit to the only walk-in used book store in my neighborhood, now, sadly, also gone. The book store didn't have the Roth novel I hoped to find, but I bought an inexpensive used hardback copy of this book, "The Ghost Writer" (1979) instead. It was a lucky find. I had just read Roth's novel, "Exit Ghost" (2007), written 28 years after "The Ghost Writer". The latter book was a sequel to the former and uses some of the same primary characters, Nathan Zuckerman and Amy Bellette, both of whom have become old, ill, and feeble. Memories of the short story writer E.I. Lonoff (a fictitious person of Roth's imagination), a major character in the "Ghost Writer" also play a prominent part in the latter novel. Set in 1953, in a remote country home in western Massachusetts, "The Ghost Writer" describes a visit by the ambitious, fledgling 23-year old writer, Nathan Zuckerman, to the home of a 56 year old reclusive writer of short stories, E.I. Lonoff, and his wife of 35 years, Hope. The young Zuckerman, in awe of the elder writer, had sent him four short stories to review. Lonoff, favorably impressed, invites the young man to dinner. When a severe snowstorm develops, Lonoff invites Zuckerman to spend the night. The fourth primary character for this short book of an evening and morning is Amy Bellette, a beautifully mysterious young woman slightly older than Zuckerman who is a guest at the Lonoff home working on his manuscripts. Bellette came to the United States from England some years earlier at Lonoff's invitation, but her past is left obscure. Zuckerman idolizes Lonoff, himself a Jewish immigrant, for his years of devotion to the art of writing and for the terseness, seriousness, and sharpness of his short stories which invariably feature young, wandering, and lost Jewish individuals as their primary characters. Zuckerman was raised in a modest Jewish home and community in Newark, New Jersey. Although he had been close to his family, his father and the community have taken offense at one of Zuckerman's short stories which they believe cast the Zuckermans and their community in Newark in a bad light. Zuckerman seeks some support from Lonoff and also tends to view this remote, silent, and rather icy man as a father figure. As with much of Roth, the book is short, the story tangled, and the writing works on many levels. Zuckerman gets the literary encouragement, and more, that he desires from Lonoff. He toasts the young man fulsomely and observes that "his work has turbulence" (p. 33) and that Zuckerman's literary voice "begins at around the back of the knees and reaches well above the head". (p. 72) Lonoff also shuts himself off from life, is rigid and straight-laced, and offers no emotional or physical companionship to the long-suffering Hope. His relationship with young Amy Bellette is the source of the stormy sexual tension and denouement of the story. The novel also explores the world of writing fiction and its relationship to that nebulous thing called life. It does so in the portrayal of Lonoff, in Zuckerman's awakening to the man, and in Zuckerman's new understanding of what his chosen life as an author may entail. The book, as does the later "Exit Ghost" also shows multiple levels in authors and in stories. Roth creates his character Zimmerman who narrates the story and the author Lonoff. In the process, Zuckerman offers a paraphrase of the story he has written about Newark life which has so bothered his father who believes it violates family privacy and encourages anti-semitism. And, although at first the matter is left cunningly ambiguous, during his evening at the Lonoff home, Zuckerman, smitten by Amy Bellette and eavesdropping on a telling late-night conversation between Bellette and Lonoff, invents a story under which Amy tells Lonoff that she is in fact Anne Frank and the author of the famous diary. Zuckerman wants to take Anne Frank/Amy Belette home to his parents as his wife to be to satisfy their concerns about his attitude towards his Jewishness. In the frenetic ending of the story as Hope walks away from the marriage in the snow and the cold, Lonoff makes a half-hearted attempt to get her to stay. He has both the callousness and the writerly instinct to give Zuckerman a pad of paper and a pen, telling him that he will make a story of the incident some day. The title of the novel, "The Ghost Writer" is itself ambiguous and straddles both Zuckerman and Lonoff. Both writers are fictitious creations of Roth. Lonoff is a ghost because, as he sadly recognizes and as Zuckerman comes to understand, he lacks his own active life and is a shade instead, sitting at his typewriter. Zuckerman is also a "ghost writer" because of the outrageous story he invents and puts in the mouth of Amy Bellette. And ironically, in the telling of the book, Zuckermann fulfills Lonoff's understanding that Zuckerman will make a story of the break-up between Lonoff and Hope. An important literary allusion which mirrors the story is to Henry James' story, "The Middle Years" which Zuckerman ponders, quotes, and paraphrases during his evening at the Lonoffs. As James had his own fictitious character describe the novelist's work in the story: "we work in the dark-- we do -- what we can -- we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art." (p. 77) The destructive force of writing in James' story finds its parallel in both Lonoff and Zuckerman. This book, Roth's 11th novel, is a coming of age story of the growth of a writer and a tale of the difficulties and myths that surround creative effort. Robin Friedman

  29. 5 out of 5

    Darryl Suite

    There's a particular section in The Ghost Writer that blew my little fragile mind. I'm both shocked and impressed that Roth decided to tackle that subject. He went there. And I can't imagine that every single person is happy with that decision. I guess Roth proved that nothing is off limits when it comes to art, which is partly one of the themes presented in this novel. Damn, that section (Chapter/Part 3) had me enraptured: there's so much to unpack there; several observations that made my eyes There's a particular section in The Ghost Writer that blew my little fragile mind. I'm both shocked and impressed that Roth decided to tackle that subject. He went there. And I can't imagine that every single person is happy with that decision. I guess Roth proved that nothing is off limits when it comes to art, which is partly one of the themes presented in this novel. Damn, that section (Chapter/Part 3) had me enraptured: there's so much to unpack there; several observations that made my eyes go wide. I (kinda) wish the entire book was about that. Of course it would have been an entirely different book, and a massive change in tone. But I would've been okay with it. Only Roth could've written this book.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Conor Ahern

    I liked this, but it felt too short to show off Roth's brilliance. My favorites of his are the in-depth character portraits. To think what this supple mind could have done with that familial story! Oy vey. I liked this, but it felt too short to show off Roth's brilliance. My favorites of his are the in-depth character portraits. To think what this supple mind could have done with that familial story! Oy vey.

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