Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott

April 13, 2011

Synopsis (from the publisher): 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.


  • All the 17th-century stuff involving Newton and his peers was highly interesting to me. I actually thought more of the book would be focused on this angle, though. It probably would have been more enjoyable had that been the case.


  • All the jumping back and forth in time was confusing and unnecessary. Why have the plot be contained inside a letter from Lydia to Cameron? What was the point of that? The main storyline at the very least should have been in the present tense, which would have cut down on a lot of confusion.
  • The whole animal rights storyline was dumb. Why did that have to be included? The book would have had enough going for it with the Newton/alchemy storyline alone. The reveal about Cameron being behind a lot of the mayhem was ridiculous, too.
  • Ditto the adultery plot. Again I just have to ask, what was the point? Cameron’s wife played zero role in the book, so why have him be married at all? That was just a way to give Stott a chance to diverge from the Newton storyline for long periods of time and pad the page count, IMO. Ugh, boring!

I had high hopes about Ghostwalk, and was looking forward to an engrossing read about Isaac Newton and alchemy. But that turned out to be only a rather small part of the main plot, which diverged in too many different directions for my tastes. And as none of the major characters, including narrator Lydia herself, was interesting enough to make up for the plot deficiencies, the book as a whole suffered. I give it 2 stars out of 5.

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