PERSONAL: Born in Fifeshire, Scotland; married David Erdal (second marriage); children: (first marriage) three. Education: Attended college.
ADDRESSES: Home—Scotland. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Doubleday, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: Author, ghostwriter, and translator. Quartet Books, London, England, Russian translator, editor, and ghostwriter, 1981–98.
Ghosting: A Double Life, Canongate Books (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2004, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2005.
Ghostwriter of twelve books, including two fiction titles, and numerous magazine and newspaper articles.
SIDELIGHTS: Jennie Erdal caused a publishing scandal in London in 2004 with her memoir, Ghosting: A Double Life, in which she detailed the dozen books she wrote for others, the numerous articles ghost-written for prestigious British periodicals, and the love letters she ghosted for flamboyant Lebanese publisher Naim Attallah, of Quartet Books. Beginning in 1981, the unassuming Scots-born Erdal began working for Quartet Books as a translator of Russian works. Soon Attallah, eager to gain respect in his adopted country and in his second language, had Erdal penning articles and interviews under his name, profiling personalities such as Claus von Bülow, the aristocrat accused of attempting to murder his wife; Hartley William, Lord Shawcross of Friston, the chief British prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders following World War II; and Laurens van der Post, a South African author and conservationist. Erdal even authored an article on Attallah's trip to China, though she had never been to that country herself. The arrangement worked well for Erdal, as she could remain at her home in Scotland and do the writing. Letters were also part of her ghosting activities, including love letters to Attallah's wife and missives to his son. Soon the arrangement broadened to include book-length works, among them two novels, one of them based on Attallah's idea of two women so close to one another that they share orgasms, even when separated by the Atlantic. Attallah shipped Erdal off to France's Dordogne region to work on the project, where she was kept a virtual prisoner until the book was completed. This arrangement paid the bills and was satisfactory for Erdal until her second husband began questioning the fifty calls per day she sometimes received from her demanding boss. In 1998 Erdal ended her association with Attallah and began writing under her own name. The result was not the novel she had imagined, but a memoir of her years working for the eccentric publisher.
Published both in the United Kingdom and in the United States, Ghosting understandably received most attention in England. Writing for the London Guardian Online, Blake Morrison noted that, instead of an actual memoir, Erdal creates a "character study [of Attallah] in the tradition of the realist novel." Morrison felt Erdal "succeeds by being merciless but also forgiving." For Morrison, "Erdal's account of their novelistic collaboration is the best (and funniest) part" of the book. Similarly, a reviewer for the Economist Online found "a rich vein of humour" in this "delightful book," and Lloyd Evans, in a London Telegraph Online review, found Ghosting "an unusually rich and entertaining memoir—hilarious, infuriating and unforgettable."
Reviewing the American edition of the book, a contributor for Publishers Weekly felt that the book's allusions to the literary world of London will probably "be lost on American readers," but went on to observe that "this memoir reveals an otherwise hidden world." Newsweek contributor Susan H. Greenberg had higher praise for the book, calling it "irresistible," as well as "probing, intelligent and funny." Likewise, a critic for Kirkus Reviews called Ghosting a "poignant and even-spirited memoir," and deemed Erdal's descriptive passages "rich and gently humorous." Booklist contributor Donna Seaman dubbed the work a "mind-blowing story," while for Seaman, Erdal's memoir is both an "exquisitely composed confession" and a "hilarious tale of decadence and duplicity."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Erdal, Jennie, Ghosting: A Double Life, Canongate Books (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2004, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2005.
Booklist, February 15, 2005, Donna Seaman, review of Ghosting, p. 1051.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2005, review of Ghosting, p. 32.
Library Journal, December 1, 2004, Barbara Hoffert, review of Ghosting, p. 92.
Newsweek, April 4, 2005, Susan H. Greenberg, review of Ghosting, p. 54.
Publishers Weekly, February 14, 2005, review of Ghosting, p. 63.
Time International, November 29, 2004, Donald Morrison, "A Writer's Writer," review of Ghosting, p. 72.
Economist Online, http://www.economist.com/ (November 11, 2004), "Tiger Burning Bright," review of Ghosting.
Guardian Online, http://books.guardian.co.uk/ (December 18, 2004), Blake Morrison, "Breaking Cover," review of Ghosting.
ReadySteadyBook.com, http://www.readysteadybook.com/ (July 5, 2005), Jodie Hamilton, review of Ghosting.
Telegraph Online, http://www.arts.telegraph.co.uk/ (November 2, 2004), Lloyd Evans, "A Ghostwriter Spills the Beans," review of Ghosting.
Times Online, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/ (December 17, 2004), Valerie Grove, "I Wrote Naim Attallah's Every Word."