Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott

GhostwalkYou know how you sometimes buy books based purely on the opinions of others or the buzz that's being created about a specific title? Well at least I do. Sometimes I don't even read the full description or synopsis and just 'go with the flow'. With some books, it works surprisingly well. With others, not so much. Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott unfortunately turned out to belong to the latter group. And I really mean 'unfortunately' because I had high hopes as far as this novel was concerned because of how many people were talking of it in positive terms when it just came out.

Lydia Brooke, a writer and a historian, returns to Cambridge for a funeral of another historian, Elizabeth Vogelsang. Elizabeth was close to Lydia in two ways. She helped her with research for a book and she also happened to be a mother to Cameron Browne, a former lover of Lydia. The death of Elizabeth is deemed either a suicide or an accidental drowning but Lydia knew her to be a person who wouldn't kill herself and as more details are revealed, accidental drowning sounds fishy (forgive the pun) as well. It turns out that Elizabeth was working on a biography of Isaac Newton and his life not as a scientist but an alchemist, a label all other Newton experts refuse to pin on him. She never got to finish the book and now Cameron asks Lydia to finish it. As Lydia delves deeper and deeper into the world of seventeenth century Cambridge and of alchemy, she realizes that there is a lot more to Elizabeth's death and that finishing her book may not be an easy task. She also realizes that when she finished her relationship with married Cameron years ago, she never really was quite done and soon their love life starts afresh as if it never ended. Lydia has some personal revelations to deal with while real danger lurks and some other forces she's not fully able to explain appear to hinder her work to finish the book.

Simply put, I was not impressed with Ghostwalk at all. I'm not sure what Ms Stott tried to accomplish here and from the looks of it, Ms Stott might not know herself. It's supposed to be a fiction book, with made up contemporary characters and real persons from the seventeenth century including Isaac Newton. The idea of Newton meddling with alchemy was very intriguing to me and I think it would have worked had the author not included pages upon pages of the supposed biography of Newton within the novel. So there I was reading a ghost story, mixed with a love story when all of a sudden I get blindsided with chapters that seemed to be taken straight out of a very boring non-fiction book on glassmaking, Newton's life written in a very dry tone that could put a night owl to sleep. That's why I think that the author wasn't sure what Ghostwalk was supposed to be. It's as if she couldn't decide whether to write a fiction or non-fiction, so why not do both. It's just that for me it didn't work at all.

Another thing that didn't work for me was a first-person narrative. In general, I think it's no easy feat to pull this off and Rebecca Stott probably shouldn't have used it for her debut novel. Because of Lydia narrating the whole story, there pretty much is no character development present. Besides maybe Cameron, all other characters fall really flat and evoked in me zero emotions. I just couldn't bring myself to care for someone who felt like a stenciled puppet not a true person. Also, while there is a ghostly atmosphere here and there,Ghostwalk has really not much to do with ghosts and apparitions and if you're looking for a horror story, this is not one. The only thing that I did like were the descriptions of Cambridge which made me really yearn for visiting it one day. But that alone wasn't enough to redeem the whole book in my eyes.