Amy P. Knight

Harlot’s Ghost by Norman Mailer

Mailer always writes with such authority that it’s hard to believe he wasn’t actually there in the room when these events occurred. There’s something very male about it. Set in the CIA in the late 50’s and early 60’s, along with a backdrop of the love story of Harry Hubbard and his distant cousin Kitteredge, who is married to his Godfather and sometimes boss. what could go wrong?

It’s an engrossing–and especially long–read. Perhaps too long, so that it started to feel that it lacked an overarching narrative and was instead a series of historical episodes loosely woven together. It ended rather abruptly–it seemed to be the death of JFK that brought things to a close, but he only became an important figure mid-way into the book.  I almost could have read it starting with the Cuba/Washington section, with a few flashbacks, that that would’ve been enough.

Mailer’s fictional versions of real historical characters are, as ever, fascinating.