The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth

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Exactly twenty years ago, Philip Roth made his debut with Goodbye, Columbus, a book that immediately announced the presence of a major new talent. The Ghost Writer, his eleventh book, begins with a young writer's search, twenty years ago, for the spiritual father who will comprehend and validate his art, and whose support will justify his inevitable flight from a loving but conventionally constricting Jewish middle-class home.  Nathan Zuckerman's quest brings him to E.I. Lonoff, whose work--exquisite parables of desire restrained--Nathan much admires.  Recently discovered by the literary world after decades of obscurity, Lonoff continues to live as a semi-recluse in rural Massachusetts with his wife, Hope, scion of an old New England family, whom the young immigrant married thirty-five years before.  At the Lonoffs' Nathan also meets Amy Bellette, a haunting young woman of indeterminate foreign background.  He is instantly infatuated with the attractive and gifted girl, and at first takes her for the aging writer's daughter.  She turns out to be a former student of Lonoff's--and may also have been Lonoff's mistress.  Zuckerman, with his imaginative curiosity, wonders if she could be the paradigmatic victim of Nazi persecution.  If she were, it might change his life. A figure of fun to the New York literati, a maddeningly single-minded isolate to his wife, teacher-father-savior to Amy, Lonoff embodies for an enchanted Nathan the ideal of artistic integrity and independence.  Hope sees Amy (as does Amy herself) as Lonoff's last chance to break out of his self-imposed constraints, and she bitterly offers to leave him to the younger woman, a chance that, like one of his own heroes, Lonoff resolutely continues to deny himself.  Nathan, although in a state of youthful exultation over his early successes, is still troubled by the conflict between two kinds of conscience: tribal and family loyalties, on the one hand, and the demands of fiction, as he sees them, on the other.  A startling imaginative leap to the beginnings of a kind of wisdom about the unreckoned consequences of art. Shocking, comic, and sad by turns, The Ghost Writer is the work of a major novelist in full maturity. The Ghost Writer was a National Book Award Finalist and a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist.

About Philip Roth

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Philip Roth was born in New Jersey in 1933.  He studied literature at Bucknell University and the University of Chicago.  His first book, Goodbye, Columbus, won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1960.  He has lived in Rome, London, Chicago, New York City, Princeton, and New England.  Since 1955, he has been on the faculties of the University of Chicago, Princeton University, and the University of Pennsylvania, where is now Adjunct Professor of English.  He is also General Editor of the Penguin Books series "Writers from the Other Europe."  Recently he has been spending half of each year in Europe, traveling and writing.
Published July 2, 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 194 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Ghost Writer

The New York Times

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Bedded down in the great man's study, the young man, unable to sleep, recapitulates the story that his father thinks will give the Jews a bad name, fantasizes about the mysterious Amy and her origins (she has a slight, "fetching" accent), reads a story by Henry James and overhears, through the ce...

Sep 02 1979 | Read Full Review of The Ghost Writer

AV Club

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Philip Roth's alter ego returns for a final appearance.

Nov 15 2007 | Read Full Review of The Ghost Writer

The Independent

The Ghost Writer is set in 1956, but the shattering events echo all the way to 2004 and Zuckerman's final chapter, Exit Ghost.

Apr 24 2014 | Read Full Review of The Ghost Writer


“Beneath [the caps] are country faces — of retired farmers and small-town storekeepers, perhaps, and dignified ladies now doing their cooking in trailers — wearing rimless spectacles and snap-on dark glasses.” (This comes from a 1962 piece called “The Old Folks Behind Home.”) Writing about baseba...

Feb 13 2013 | Read Full Review of The Ghost Writer

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Michael Manley 20 Aug 2013

Rated the book as 4 out of 5