Books: Norman Mailer, Harlot's Ghost

At first glance Norman Mailer's much anticipated and superhyped new novel beggars description. Saying, for openers, that it is very, very long is like observing that the Grand Canyon is quite roomy. The next step is to point out that mind-boggling immensity seems to be one of the points of the exercise. Mailer's narrator, an aging CIA hand named Herrick ("Harry") Hubbard, who has written the two manuscripts that make up the bulk of Harlot's Ghost (Random House; 1,310 pages; $30), notes that he has been guided by Thomas Mann's assertion "Only the exhaustive is truly interesting." By that standard alone,...

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