Rebecca Stott’s Ghostwalk
Rebecca Stott has a new historical fiction novel, Dark Earth, being released today and it sounds amazing! See her Twitter feed here: twitter.com/RebeccaStott64.
I have pre-ordered it and promised that I will write about it when I’ve read it. But since I don’t have it yet, I want to talk about one of my all-time favorite historical novels, which is her Ghostwalk.
I’m quoting from the cover blurb here, because I doubt I could write a better synopsis:
‘A Cambridge historian is found drowned, leaving her study of Isaac Newton’s alchemy incomplete and a spate of mysterious deaths surrounding Newton’s rise in fame unsolved. Her fellow writer, Lydia Brooke, agrees to finish the book as a favor to the historian’s son, a neuroscientist with whom she had a long affair. But her attempt to complete the book’s final chapter, and her return into her former lover’s orbit, put her in mortal danger as she uncovers troubling evidence surrounding Newton. As Lydia becomes ensnared in a 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.’
This gives nothing away, and I’m not going to reveal any spoilers here. But first of all, for a dead man, Isaac Newton is a truly fascinating character, and he drives this story as much as any of the living participants. Alchemy was once considered a legitimate discipline, but I had never known that Newton, who formulated — amongst others — the law of gravity, which he used to explain a host of other earthly phenomena, had pursued it. The description of his investigation into the science of light and optics by staring into the sun and probing his own eyeball with a bodkin very effectively convey how driven he was by his curiosity!
With quantum physics on the curriculum with mystery, murder, and the poignant ache of an extramarital affair, this is a brilliantly executed novel with a conclusion that leaves me in tears — and I’ve read it more than twice, once aloud to a friend who was recovering from eye surgery. (He was a little nonplussed, I think!)
One of the magical things about this novel is the way that Stott merges Cambridge’s past – circa 1665 — with the present, which is something that historians (at least, this one) try to achieve all the time… but rarely, in my own case, as successfully. It is a talent to look at a place in the present day and see its past lives in a meaningful, compelling way. Being able to communicate that vision is even better.
This is a thinking-person’s ghost story, with layers of experience to uncover, which is why it remains fresh when you read it a second, or third, time. And do not skip the additional material that follows the conclusion of the novel. It contains gems.