Ask a Book Question: the Nineteenth in a Series (The Case of the Missing Sequel)

May 12, 2004 | 2 min read

Christian writes in with this question:

What ever happened to the sequel to Harlot’s Ghost that Normal Mailer was to write at some time?

Only a personality as audacious as Norman Mailer would have the brazenness to end a daring and ambitious 1400 page novel with the words “To Be Continued” without knowing whether or not he would ever write the second part. In fact, most writers would have the sequel in the bag, so to speak, before they would ever dare to make such a claim. Mailer, however, has always played by his own rules, and one of these rules is that if he doesn’t want to write the sequel, he doesn’t have to. A bit of research revealed that this is indeed the case; according to this interview that he gave last year, anyway. Says Mailer when asked when he will complete and publish the novel:

Probably never. I was about to start the second volume about two years ago, and something happened that never happened before, which is a new muse came into the room just as I was on the altar. And said, “Come here.” And I left the second volume of Harlot’s Ghost at the altar and ran off with the new muse. I’ve been working on a novel that I’m going to either finish it or it is going to finish me, because it’s a long book that will come out in pieces. But I don’t think I’ll ever get back to Harlot’s Ghost. Also, the CIA has changed so much that I’m not sure that what I was interested in is still there.

Mailer, it appears, has moved on. But as long as I’ve got you here, Mailer has a lot to say in this very entertaining interview. To my mind, the highlights include his description of an unnamed female New York Times critic (who is undoubtedly Michiko Kakutani): “I know one reviewer who is possessed of a power tool up the posterior aperture whenever she has to review one of my books.” And also, on his fisticuffs with Gore Vidal, “it was very mean to take a heavy tumbler and bounce it off his head.” Classic. One final note: I was rather shocked to discover that Harlot’s Ghost is currently out of print. Someone ought to remedy that.

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.