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Ghostwalk Paperback – June 3, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. British historian Stott makes a stunning debut with this hypnotic and intelligent thriller, the first fiction release of a new Random House imprint. The mysterious drowning death of Elizabeth Vogelsang, a Cambridge University scholar who was almost finished writing a controversial biography of Isaac Newton, leads her son, Cameron Brown, to recruit Lydia Brooke, his former lover, to complete the book. That request plunges Brooke into probing two ostensibly separate series of murders: one in the 17th century claimed the lives of several who stood between Newton and the fellowship he needed to continue his studies at Cambridge; the other in the present day appears to target those who have offended a radical animal rights group. Brooke's work may be haunted by a ghost from Newton's time who guides her to a radical reinterpretation of the role of alchemy and the supernatural in Newton's life. Much more than a clever whodunit, this taut, atmospheric novel with its twisty interconnections between past and present will leave readers hoping Stott has many more stories in her future. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From The New Yorker
Drawing on alchemy, neurology, animal-rights activism, and supernatural visitations, this début novel is an ambitious, learned thriller. A Cambridge historian dies under suspicious circumstances, leaving behind the nearly completed manuscript of a book on the alchemical experiments of Isaac Newton. Her son, a research scientist, hires his former lover, Lydia, to finish the book. Meanwhile, a shadowy group of animal-rights activists escalate their violent attacks. As Lydia is drawn further into Newtons seventeenth-century world, she begins to believe that his ghost is haunting her and, perhaps, directing the murderous events of the present. Stott, a historian of science, deploys her research effortlessly and demonstrates great attention to detail, but the proliferation of themes means that none are explored in much depth. Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top customer reviews
"Riddler, riddled, riddling. Riddled with ...I thought the plague. But we were all infiltrators now, weren't we, I thought especially where we loved, seeping into each other's lives, insinuating, stealing secrets to empower us, to give us a little strength, Though we loved, though, yes we would also love --beyond everything. We may have boarded up all the gates to the city but the plague was inside the walls now; there was nothing but smoke and silence and the tolling of bells."
When historian Elizabeth Volgelsang was found drowned by her son, Cameron, she had been working on a biography of Isaac Newton that revealed his interest in alchemy and also revealed some deaths of his associates which seemed suspicious. Cameron asks his former lover Lydia Brooke a writer whom Elizabeth had mentored to move into Elizabeth's cottage and finish her work. Almost immediately things start to happen.
I love a work which delves into history and found it intriguing to imagine that there might be something sinister about the well respected scientist, Isaac Newton. To find out the "truth" about him, I encourage you to read Ghostwalk.
Of course, it is clear from early on that Ms. Scott has a larger purpose in this book. She is not only writing a novel of romance and mystery paralleled through centuries, she is trying to spell out an historically-based theory about a series of real (possible) murders that took place in Cambridge starting in the 1660's while Newton was trying to secure a place at Trinity College. I will not ruin the suspense by spelling out what Ms. Scott thinks she has discovered but it's intriguing and it's not necessarily what the reader might expect. She weaves real historical documents throughout her novel and provides a summary of some of the important papers at the end of the book. The reader can draw his own conclusion but it's pretty clear where Ms. Scott's sympathies lie.
In fact, it's Ms. Scott's apparent real-life sympathies that nearly derail her novel. She has a powerful premise and she builds a nice plot around it. Her protagonist, Lydia, is ghostwriting a book about Newton for an author who has died under mysterious circumstances. As she reads the manuscript on which she's working Ms. Scott is able to easily weave in the history she wants us to see. To add to the complications, she restarts an affair with the married son of the dead author. If she does jump around in time a little bit; well, in general, her stylized prose is up to the task of keeping us involved.
It is the subplot concerning an animal rights activist group which is linked to a multi-national corporation conspiracy theory which nearly threw me. I got the feeling that Ms. Scott was trying to hammer home a thesis that experimenting on and/or killing animals for food is wrong. Not necessarily a bad thing; however, when combined with her illustration of Newton's involvement in alchemy (true, and interesting), her pseudo-scientific use of entanglement, and the fact that no science or scientist is shown in a good light in this novel made me a bit uncomfortable. She may be trying to make a particular point about scientific ethics but, with all that's going on in this novel, any specific point is lost. It's muddied and unclear, leaving an undertone of anti-science rhetoric which is worrisome to me.
Still, there are many pleasures to be had in this novel. And her conclusions about Cambridge in the 1660's are worthy of consideration. The rest of her plots and subplots in this book are merely and excuse to draw her conclusions and she handles it all fairly well. It will be interesting to see where she goes from here.