A Cambridge historian, Elizabeth Vogelsang, is found drowned, clutching a glass prism in her hand. The book she was writing about Isaac Newton’s involvement with alchemy — the culmination of her lifelong obsession with the seventeenth century — remains unfinished. When her son, Cameron, asks his former lover, Lydia Brooke, to ghostwrite the missing final chapters of his mother’s book, Lydia agrees and moves into Elizabeth’s house — a studio in an orchard where the light moves restlessly across the walls.
Soon Lydia discovers that the shadow of violence that has fallen across present-day Cambridge, which escalates to a series of murders, may have its origins in the troubling evidence that Elizabeth’s research has unearthed. As Lydia becomes ensnared in a dangerous conspiracy that reawakens ghosts of the past, the seventeenth century slowly seeps into the twenty-first, with the city of Cambridge the bridge between them.
Filled with evocative descriptions of Cambridge, past and present, Ghostwalk centers around a real historical mystery that Rebecca Stott has uncovered involving Newton’s alchemy. In it, time and relationships are entangled — the present with the seventeenth century, and figures from the past with the love-torn twenty-first-century woman who is trying to discover their secrets.
A stunningly original display of scholarship and imagination, and a gripping story of desire and obsession, Ghostwalk is a rare debut that will change the way most of us think about scientific innovation, the force of history, and time itself.
I picked up the audio version of Ghostwalk from my local library. My initial though was “hmmmm Newton…why not?” The good thing is that I learned a ton of interesting information about Newton’s studies at Cambridge, but unfortunately, I was not impressed by the modern fiction plot line.
I’m going to start with all the things I enjoyed about Ghostwalk. I love the information about Newton. I found his experiments with light fascinating and wish there had been more details on the early production of glass. I like how Stott wove together the intricate murder mysteries of the past, and these events alone have me wanting to do my own research. And I enjoy the focus on alchemy; Stott’s research was impressive. I enjoyed how Elizabeth teaches Lydia how to visualize the past through smells and stories. And I even like the journal style format.
And now for the bad…I had a hard time connecting with Lydia, which isn’t good as she is the main character. Basically, she chooses to be in a relationship with a married man and her constant focus on this relationship bogged down the story. We all know it’s going to end…badly! And I had a difficult time even caring for Cameron as everything he said and did felt overly manipulative and arrogant. Not my type of guy and his very few redeeming qualities only diminished as the novel progressed. But it wasn’t just the crap relationship that left me feeling ‘eh’ about Ghostwalk. The plot was bogged down by the rough melding of Lydia’s timeline, the animal research activists, and the ghostly resurgence of Newton’s past. It was hard to enjoy over my annoyance at Lydia and the jumpy plot.
Ghostwalk wasn’t a bad story but not one that I would ever read again. I was impressed by Stott’s research and presentation of historic information, but not by the plot development. It was interesting to learn about Newton and his experiments, and I wouldn’t mind learning more. Next time I may pick up a nonfiction instead of a historical fiction novel.
Do you enjoy learning about Newton and alchemy? Have you read Ghostwalk? Tell me what you think.