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Harlot's Ghost by Norman Mailer

Harlot's Ghost (1991)

by Norman Mailer

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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9721213,342 (3.63)23



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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
The sheer enormity of this novel was challenging at first: 1,282 pages!!! From the very beginning, I wished it came in 2 volumes - it was hard to pick up this book with one hand! I call it One Man's Saga of CIA, going from 1953 (with some flashbacks into earlier history) to 1963. Actual historical figures are not only mentioned but described in detail - CIA, FBI agents and political figures, as well as famous spies like Kim Philby, Burgess, MacLean... And among them, Harry Hubbard, our protagonist, is building his career in CIA, and one of the main reasons he is there is because he has been "intellectually seduced", as suggested by his colleague/friend/lover Kitteridge (also the wife of his CIA mentor and godfather - quite an intricate side plot here as well; Kitteridge is also the one who invented a very interesting theory of Alpha and Omega (sort of like Yin and Yang, but with different nuances...) - two parts of everyone's personality - which was used as a tool in her CIA work).

The novel has moments of danger, intrigue, occasional boredom of routine CIA tasks, improbable hypotheses of historical events, and, for me, some real eye-openers of US and world policies at the time. Vivid portraits of Fidel Castro and Jack and Robert Kennedy. Of course, it didn't take just one sitting to finish this book, I had breaks for smaller books in between. And yet, the plot was strong enough for me to be able to keep it in memory throughout. ( )
1 vote Clara53 | May 5, 2017 |
A fun, if too long novel of the CIA with crosses, double crosses, and lots of intrigue. Does provide us with some interesting insight into the Cold War, and into the world before the Berlin Wall came down. My favorite scenes are the ones actually taking place in Berlin. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
I liked it a lot and really with the planned sequel had been completed.
  FKarr | Mar 8, 2015 |
I hated this book. I love narrative but I could NOT plow through this. It actually depressed me, and I have no idea why. I might try it again sometime - perhaps it was where I was in my life at the time? ( )
  EileenWYSIWYG | Jun 1, 2011 |
Any individual section of this book might rate four to four-and-a-half stars, but taken all together, this thing is just exhausting. The wearying effect is exacerbated by the fact that the book consists of three relatively disconnected segments, rather than one all-encompassing story. In spite of the length, this book is not bloated; think of it as three tightly-written 400-page novels strung loosely together.

Admittedly, I know nothing about the CIA other than what I've read in this book, but the account that Mailer presents is thoroughly researched and seems very believable. A few peripheral details, however, stretch crediblility, such as A) the inclusion of a gay character named "Dix Butler", B) a grown, respected man who calls himself by the name of his favorite baseball player (although many characters, including Cal, exhibit outrageous toffery that makes that decision a little more credible, if not palatable), C) consensual gay gangbangs in a Catholic boarding school (I can believe that sexual abuse takes place, but the degree of it and the casualness with which the acts are treated confuse me), and D) a mentor character that teaches the protagonist to rock-climb over the course of months, only to tell him he sucks at it and to join the CIA instead. These absurdities detract little from the overall effect of the novel, though, especially once you get 800 pages or so removed from them. All in all, it's extremely informative, interesting, and believable, just an epic struggle to complete. Good luck. ( )
4 vote _________jt_________ | Nov 17, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
From the little world of Encounter to the more encompassing schemes of James Angleton and William Casey, all of us have been slightly deranged by the work of this giant cultural and political construct. And now, with the unsolved and unpunished penumbra and personnel of Iran–Contra, we have fuel for more and later conspiracy theories. But as the Cold War at last abates, having so wasted our lives and energies, we can blink our opening eyes at the monsters engendered in the long sleep of reason. It is Mailer’s achievement to have summoned the ghosts of paranoia and conspiracy in order to demystify them, and in so doing to have raised realism to the level of fiction.
A book as massive as this enters one's life. Taking it up after some flimsy frippery of effete Europe, one recognizes that Tolstoy's ghost haunts America, and that Mailer, whose laying reputation is as great as that of a champion Rhode Island red, is the man to lay it.

War and Peace was not too big to encompass the Napoleonic impact on Imperial Russia. Is perhaps Harlot's Ghost pretentious in supposing that the CIA has a comparable historical significance?...

He was the right man to exalt the history of the CIA into something better than history. He is writing as well as he ever did, and his stamina is awesome. He reminds us, as Balzac and Dickens do, that the novel is more than diversion. Harlot's Ghost is to be read in the White House as well as in Langley, and it ought to pored over in the sancta of our own MI6. But it is for us, the lowly governed, as well.
added by SnootyBaronet | editWashington Post, Anthony Burgess (Sep 29, 1991)
Slick the book certainly is not. But a page-turner it is for a great deal of the time, and none the worse for it. The best sequences in the book, all of which involve the CIA in action, require a certain breathlessness, as the operatives spin through their madcap motions faster than the speed of thought; as with the Red Queen in Alice this is the pace they have to maintain in spyland just to stay in the same place.

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mailer, Normanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Häilä, ArtoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For we wrestle, not against flesh and blood,
but against principalities, against powers,
against the rulers of the darkness
of this world, against spiritual wickedness
in high places.
--Ephesians, 6:12
BELINDA: Ay, but you know we must return good for evil.
LADY BRUTE: That may be a mistake in the translation
--Sir John Vanbrugh
The Provoked Wife
Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire,
My Soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
--Theodore Roethke
In a Dark Time
To Jason Epstein
First words
In a late winter evening in 1983, while driving through fog along the Maine coast, recollections of old campfires began to drift into the March mist, and I thought of the Abnaki Indians of the Algonquin tribe who dwelt near Bangor a thousand years ago.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345379659, Paperback)

"The most daring, ambitious and by far the best written of the several very long, daring and ambitious books Norman Mailer has so far produced....Unlike just about every American writer since Henry James, Mailer has managed to grow and become richer in wisdom with each new book....There can no longer be any doubt that he possesses the largest mind and imagination at work in American literature today."
Narrated by Harry Hubbard, a second-generation CIA man, HARLOT'S GHOST looks into the depths of the American soul and the soul of Hugh Tremont Montague, code name Harlot, a CIA man obsessed. And Harry is about to discover how far the madness will go and what it means to the Agency and the country....
A Main Selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:22 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

As the protege+a7 of the legendary intelligence officer Hugh Tremont Montague--known as Harlot--Harry Hubbard is transformed by his life of subterfuge and delusion and is drawn into a life of moral purpose.

» see all 2 descriptions

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