The GhostwriterBy Zoran Zivkovic (PS Publishing; 2012)

Reading this deceptively uneventful mind-boggler, two things immediately became apparent: 1). nobody writes like Zoran Zivkovic, and 2). nobody else could have conceived THE GHOSTWRITER. It’s a short novel about an unnamed writer answering emails while playing with his beloved cat Felix. That adequately sums up the narrative, but in true Zivkovic fashion the proceedings, deceptively simple though they might seem, explore profound questions about creativity, authorship and the nature of identity.

As the novel opens the aforementioned author, suffering from writer’s block, receives an email from “An Admirer” requesting that the writer ghostwrite a novel for him and turn over all authorship rights. The writer is understandably bewildered by this proposition and presses the admirer on it. He’s interrupted, however, by four email correspondents, each with equally eccentric, and weirdly similar, requests.

First is OpenSea, a pretentious novelist who likes to needle the writer, telling him he should write a self-parody. Next there’s Banana, a female fan of the writer who every Tuesday has a dream whose particulars she’s attempting to string together into a novel (of sorts) she wants the writer to help her finish. There’s also P-0, who likes to compose self-described “pastiches” of the writer’s stories and now seeks to reverse the process by writing the pastiche first. Finally we have the aging Pandora, who entreats the writer to draft a novel (despite the writer’s attempts at steering her toward a short story) about her dying pooch Albert.

Overhanging all this are the emails of Admirer, who persists in his request that the writer ghostwrite a novel for him, and the antics of Felix. The latter is constantly interrupting the writer’s emails with his irrepressible playfulness and troublemaking, serving as both an irritant and a respite from the mystery that comes to increasingly inform the narrative: who is the Admirer and what are his motives?

Figuring this out is no easy task, what with four very likely suspects and a myriad of possible clues. The perpetrator of the Admirer emails is never concretely identified, although the attentive reader can figure out who it is–and if not s/he can simply read the lengthy afterward by Michael A. Morrison, which provides as thorough an analysis of the text as anyone could possibly desire. Morrison not only solves the mystery at the heart of THE GHOSTWRITER but extends it to encompass Zoran Zivkovic himself, who apparently has a lot in common with the writer depicted in this novel.

Of course I’m quite aware that the above might seem to make THE GHOSTWRITER out to be an example of the type of postmodern gobbledygook that afflicts a lot of today’s fiction, and which quite a few readers (this one included) go out of their way to avoid. In truth, however, the novel, like all Zoran Zivkovic’s fiction, is eminently readable and a lot of fun. Perhaps more than any other modern novelist Zivkovic really knows how to craft novels that fully satisfy the intellect and entertain, and THE GHOSTWRITER is a standout example.