four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
30-Sept-Oct-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-GhostwalkAfter nearly completing an untraditional biography of Isaac Newton focused on his interest in alchemy, Cambridge scholar Elizabeth Vogelsang is found drowned in the river Cam. Her son, Cameron, asks his former flame, Lydia Brooke, to finish the book. Lydia moves into Elizabeth’s house and finds herself in the midst of death: murders in the 17th century that allowed Newton to pursue his studies at Cambridge, and the murders of others in the present, which may be related to Elizabeth’s controversial research. As Lydia starts to sense supernatural workings and a "ghostwalk" to the 17th century, the past and the present, as well as science and the occult, converge.
Spiegel & Grau. 284 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0385521065

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Instead of a reanimated Newton dancing to the rhythm of a contemporary novelist’s imagination, we get something better: a carefully researched vision of Cambridge circa 1665; a peek at the great scholar’s obsessive genius as he explores the laws of light and a real set of deaths left unresolved. … [Ghostwalk leaves] a lingering impression of a world richer, and more precarious, than we imagine." Janice P. Nimura

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"The pages she includes in Ghostwalk from Elizabeth Vogelsang’s fictional manuscript on Newton, replete with footnotes and illustrations, are utterly convincing. … [Stott] manages to invoke both the non-causal entanglements of quantum physics and the paranoid conspiracies of Pynchon and DeLillo. Her home terrain, however, is the river-riven landscape of the human heart." Christopher Benfey

South FL Sun-Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Ghostwalk drips with the atmosphere of Cambridge. … Stott keeps the gothic tones high, while not neglecting the mystery elements or the contemporary story that pulls Ghostwalk together." Oline H. Cogdill

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"Historians know little about the reclusive Newton, and British history professor and debut novelist Rebecca Stott uses his enigmatic life to construct a modern-day murder mystery set against the backdrop of a 17th-century ghost story. … Past and present are exquisitely connected in Stott’s wonderfully written Ghostwalk." Carol Memmott

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s outlandish and devilishly plausible. … The section that explains how a glass prism was manufactured in Venice and eventually delivered to Newton in the 1660s is particularly fascinating and endows the novel with the kind of authenticity that makes its more speculative elements even creepier." Ron Charles

Critical Summary

Most of us know Sir Isaac Newton as the author of the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687), the father of classical mechanics, and a forerunner to the Enlightenment. Less known was his interest in magical alchemy and the occult, nearly inseparable from his scientific studies. British historian Rebecca Stott’s debut novel (after Darwin and the Barnacle: The Story of One Tiny Creature and History’s Most Spectacular Scientific Breakthrough) successfully explores this scientific-supernatural union. Although first a murder mystery, Ghostwalk is also a reflection on metaphysics, a centuries-old ghost story, and a romance. Critics especially praised the realistic depiction of 17th-century Cambridge and the inclusion of parts of Elizabeth’s book. "But most important," notes the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, "Stott knows how to tell a good story."