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Harlot's Ghost


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About the Author

Normal Mailer is a Pulizter Prize winning novelist who redifined the concept of literary non-fiction. He has also directed four feature length films. He died in November 2007.


Those who quail at the prospect of a 1400-page novel by the author of Ancient Evenings and Tough Guys Don't Dance need have no fear. Mailer's newest effort, a mammoth imagining of the CIA that puts all previous fictions about the Agency in the shade, reads like an express train. Never has he written more swiftly and surely, more vividly and with less existential clutter. A contemporary picaresque yarn, Harlot's Ghost bears more than a slight resemblance to those great 18th-century English novels that chronicle the coming-of-age of a young rogue with good connections. Harry Hubbard is a bright young man whose father and whose mentor, Hugh Montague (also known as Harlot), are both senior CIA figures and induct him into the Agency. Most of the book, after a melodramatic beginning, is one long flashback, Harry's autobiographical account of his early career--partly in his own words, partly in an exchange of letters with Harlot's beautiful, brilliant wife, Kittredge, whom Harry admires from afar and will one day steal. He is seen in training in the '50s under real-life figures like Allen Dulles and Dick Bissell, and with the martini-swigging, pistol-toting William Harvey at his first post in Berlin--where he meets Dix Butler, who becomes in a sense his nemesis. A quiet spell in Montevideo under Howard Hunt follows, then he goes to Washington, where he watches the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Cuban missile crisis develop--and becomes the lover of President Kennedy's mistress. The book winds down with Kennedy's assassination and a sense of growing despair, only to conclude with a gnomic ``To Be Continued.'' Whether or not there is really to be a sequel, Harlot's Ghost is entirely self-contained, and a bravura performance. In an author's note listing his voluminous sources and the relation of fictional to nonfictional characters, Mailer claims that good fiction ``is more real, more nourishing to our sense of reality, than nonfiction.'' The book is an utterly convincing portrait of that strange, snobbish, macho, autocratic collection of brainy misfits who have played so large and often tragic a role in American history. BOMC main selection; first serial to Rolling Stone. (Oct.)

'Outstanding' - Salman Rushdie 'A magnificent achievement' - Guardian 'Compelling, unforgettable' - Observer

To call Mailer's CIA novel a spy story would be like calling Moby Dick a whaling story. If you are seeking myriad details about how The Agency really operates, you will find them here, but Mailer has always sought the nuances that give facts their essential meaning, and that is what makes this book so much more than just another CIA expose. For Mailer's true purpose is to define that part of the American psyche that has spawned and sustains the CIA. It is a spirit (and note that this is a book more metaphysical than political) born of militant Christianity and buccaneering rapacity, of noblesse oblige and authoritarian devotion, a spirit believing itself turned in to God without worrying if it's heeding the devil. The dialectic here is Manicheanism more than Marxism, and--shades of Melville--the quest is one in which we may forfeit our souls. An immensely long but never laborious book, one where Mailer works compelling variations on his quintessential themes. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/90.--Charles Michaud, Turner Free Lib., Randolph, Mass.

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