Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Ghost by Robert Harris

Ghost, TheWhen the former British Prime Minister, Adam Lang, decides to publish his memoirs, he hires a ghost writer as per usual. Only not all too far into the project, the “ghost” dies after falling off a bridge. A replacement is procured and he becomes The Ghost who tells the story of writing Lang’s memoires.

The new Ghost is never named, but nevertheless serves as the narrator throughout the book. He knows that his predecessor is dead and that he cannot be certain that his death was a natural one, so he goes into the situation knowing that he needs to be careful. Just after beginning with the book, all hell breaks loose as Lang is accused of working with the Americans by approving the transfer of British citizens to Gitmo in clear violation of international law. As the Americans don’t recognize this law, they cannot be held to account, but Lang, as an Englishman, can be tried for his offenses. Suddenly the priority switches from writing the memoires to practicing damage control for Lang.

As the novel progresses, the Ghost begins to try and piece Lang’s stories together with known facts about him and keeps coming up short. He begins to dig and isn’t sure he likes what he finds. This puts him in direct conflict with his job and his conscience. Should he just do the job he was hired to do and write the book or should he go after the truth? The first option would make his wealthy, but a traitor to his conscience; the second might just be suicide. He settles for jostling for time so that he can gather information and make up his mind, but the situation continues to heat up and his time starts to run very short indeed.

The Ghost is basically a political thriller which is so blatantly based on Tony Blair that even I couldn’t have missed the connection. Frankly I’m quite surprised that Harris didn’t find himself in a liable suit after this book came out. However, I’m not looking to discuss politics or the rights and wrongs of Harris’ conjectures, so I’m just going to view the book as a generic political thriller and leave it at that.

In general, I thought it was OK. It was all a little vague and one-sided for my taste. There was a distinct lack of balance and counter argument in the book, i.e. there was The Ghost and his conjectures and that was pretty much it. Yes, it did look like he was following the right path, but there were too many questions that went unanswered and a distinct lack of hard evidence to fuel his search. There was too much conjecture and guesswork for my taste. I also never really felt the connection to the narrator since he himself didn’t really seem to know where he belonged. It was like he was floating out at sea being taken to wherever the wind and tides took him. Yes, he’d pick up things along the way, but he never really seemed to be in any control and couldn’t even really decide if he had an opinion one way or the other.

That said, it was entertaining enough that I read the whole book and didn’t feel like it was a waste of my time. However, that is all it was for me, entertainment. 3/5

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo

The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your DreamSantiago is a young shepherd boy who continually dreams that he is destined to find a treasure near the Egyptian pyramids. As he travels with his sheep, he thinks about the soul and the language of the world. He believes if he listens long enough to the world, it will tell him how to reach his own destiny.

During his travels, he realizes that it would be easy to give up and settle for something comfortable like many people do. They ignore what the world is telling them because conventionality and society tells them they should do the sensible thing and settle down to a modest job with a modest income and start a family. The boy believes that they lose their meaning in life by doing to and that only the possibility of fulfilling a dream and following that dream gives life a purpose. Several times he is tempted to give in and compromise, especially when he finds his true love in the desert, but something always comes along to spur him on in his travels. Thus he comes to believe that the entire universe is there to help anyone who undertakes the journey along to find his dream and that only people themselves stand in their own way.

This was a quick, neat little read. I enjoyed the book, but found that it didn’t really live up to its reputation. Again it’s one of those I suppose would be better from a younger person’s perspective, but for me it didn’t offer much in the way of new or uncharted territory. The entire time I was reading it, I was reminded of Siddartha by Hermann Hesse. Despite the novel’s differences, they are both about the journey to oneself and learning the meaning of life. Their conclusions serve to show that there really is no universal meaning of life, but that each person must decide for himself if he wants to seek knowledge of the world or not and that the answer may be different for each person. Santiago’s journey does, however, lead him to believe that the world is all one and that it’s cohesive is love. This knowledge became his greatest treasure.