Rebecca Stott


(Reviewed by Sudheer Apte MAY 8, 2007)

Isaac Newton, who in the seventeenth century greatly advanced physics and mathematics and is known as the father of classical mechanics, is now increasingly acknowledged as having been a secret alchemist in the Hermetic tradition. Several of Newton's private papers and alchemical treatises at Trinity College in Cambridge are being examined anew by historians. The alchemists had a network and kept much of their work underground.

Read ExcerptThese facts appear in the novel Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott, in the form of a theory developed by a historian, Elizabeth Vogelsang, who is found suspiciously drowned at the beginning of the story.

If it were merely a fanciful tale based on a germ of an idea such as this, Ghostwalk would still be interesting. But the novel is also a taut thriller. In addition, Rebecca Stott also supplies us with convincing characters and a sense of place. In Ghostwalk, the place is Cambridge, England, and its atmosphere is captured wonderfully.

The protagonist, Lydia Brooke, is given an assignment to complete a book. The scholar Elizabeth Vogelsang dies outside her home when she is close to completing her biography on Isaac Newton. Vogelsang's son hires Brooke to finish her work and to ghost-write the book she had started.

There are complications: we learn that the son, a married neuroscientist, is an ex-lover of Brooke, and when Brooke moves into the same house that Vogelsang occupied, she finds mysterious parallels between seventeenth-century suspicious deaths in Cambridge and a contemporary set of equally suspicious ones. There are animal rights activists who are taking drastic steps in the twenty-first century, as well as seventeenth century shenanigans that seem designed to get Newton his fellowship at Trinity.

In a style reminiscent of Amitav Ghosh's 2001 novel The Calcutta Chromosome, current events and atmosphere are connected to historical ones, so much so that they seem to be one continuous whole. There are scenes that remind the reader of the layers of history buried underneath today's buildings, rivers, and bogs in Cambridge. The entire story is told from the point of view of the Lydia Brooke character, and we share with her her bewilderment and her peculiar sensibility at the strange events that she witnesses. Ghostwalk compares favorably with Ghosh's sprawling and unsatisfying novel, though. The book is compact and its story is more focused, and the characters are fewer and more realistic -- realistic enough for the reader to swallow a few hints of the supernatural.

Ghostwalk is a very impressive debut that leaves one looking forward to Stott's next book.

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Read a chapter excerpt from Ghostwalk at

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About the Author:

Rebecca StottRebecca Stott was born in Cambridge, England in 1964 and raised in Brighton in a large Plymouth Brethren community. She studied English and Art History at York University and then completed an MA and PhD whilst raising her son, Jacob, born in 1984.

She is the author of several academic books on Victorian literature and culture, two books of non-fiction, including a partial biography of Charles Darwin, and a cultural history of the oyster. She is now a Professor of English Literature at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. She has three children, Jacob, Hannah and Kezia and has lived in Cambridge since 1993. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014