The narrative of Andy Croft’s verse-novel is basically Hamlet relocated from Elsinore to a dingy flat and playing out against a backdrop of left-wing politics and the Spanish civil war instead of the wasp’s nest of court intrigue. Oh, and written in Pushkin sonnets as opposed to the iambic pentameter. But apart from that, we’re definitely in Hamlet territory as reluctant hero Tod Prince (geddit?) struggles against the nefarious machinations of Claud King (geddit? part two), tries to romance the headstrong Fee (geddit? part three) and deals with unwanted ghostly visitations.
Tod’s a down-on-his-luck writer who hopes his long-gestating biography of 1930s poet Rex Dedman – who, as his name would suggest, is now deceased – will be a critical and financial success. Claud, publisher and rival for the affections of Rex’s wife Trudi, is working on his own memoir and tries to coerce Tod into a version of events designed to bolster his revisionist take on Rex’s life and smooth over a particularly gnarly secret that both men were party to back when they were fighting to protect Spain from Franco’s fascism.
Different stories emerge as first Rex then Trudi visit Tod from beyond the grave, with each character’s version of events taking on a different colouration (think Rashomon conflated with Land and Freedom) but amidst the deceptions, betrayals and bed-hopping, who’s telling the truth and how is Tod meant to arrive at a definitive narrative?
Ghost Writer is an absolute tour de force. By turns a mystery, a love story, a ghost story, a war-time thriller, a political treatise and a satire on the literati, Croft covers more ground in 140 sonnets than most novelists could manage in a 600-page door-stopper. The fact that he keeps the whole thing ticking along so wittily and so readably is the clincher.
See below for Neil Fulwood’s review of Andy Croft’s later book 1948