Thursday, February 21, 2008

Walk like a Ghost

Since is it still Romance Month, I will continue on with our theme of love with another review of a book we did recently for our Modern Masters discussion group, Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott.

This book is very hard to place in any one niche. It is modern fiction with supernatural elements, but has quantum physics, historical research, animal rights, chemistry, biography, murder, horror, and a great love story. It is such a strange blend of things that one hesitates to classify it as any one genre (which is why it is shelved under regular fiction).

The story of Ghostwalk is told as an open letter or journal of the main character (Lydia Brooke) to her lover (Cameron Vogelsang), and is basically an explanation of the events that lead up to the rather shocking ending of the story. What starts out as the research project of a lifetime turns into a haunted, bizarre story of a woman trying to survive in the face of some awful truths. What exactly does that mean, you ask. Well, I shall enlighten you.

Following the death of Elizabeth Vogelsang, an historian specializing in the late 17th century, Lydia Brooke is commissioned to finish Elizabeth's controversial biography of Sir Isaac Newton and his work as an alchemist. When she is approached by her ex-lover, Cameron, to do the ghostwriting that would allow the project to be completed, she sees it as a way to help her dead friend and (subconsciously) to get close to Cameron again. Though her friends counsel her against taking the job (fearing that the all-consuming relationship with the married man will resume), she does so anyway.

This all seems normal enough as things go, but as time passes, and Lydia becomes more and more engrossed in the narrative, things become stranger and stranger around her. Suddenly it seems as though the 17th century is intruding into the modern world, and the ghosts of the past are not some insubstantial things, but rather physical beings whose ominous threat pervades Lydia's whole life. Soon, a series a murders that Elizabeth had researched are being replicated in the modern time, and the idea of ghosts goes from uncomfortable fantasy to horrifying reality.

One thing that has struck me as exciting about this story is that it seeks to treat the idea of paranormal phenomena, specifically ghosts, in a very scientific way. The idea that 'ghosts' are nothing more than quantum paired observations that exist independent of time (i.e. they are linked by space and observation regardless of time) is intriguing to say the least, and the idea that a series of murders (that did happen and are speculated about by the Historical Societies interested in the period) could form a potent focus for observation makes the idea of 'living history' more and more of a frightening prospect.

As much as this story is a supernatural, occult, physics, and historical piece, though, it is primarily a romantic love story about two people who are so deeply obsessed with each other that their primal feelings overcome their own good sense. This unfortunate circumstance leads to the deeply tragic ending of the book, and the destruction of Lydia's personal life. At the end, Lydia is left with the knowledge of the truth, which is cold comfort for her sacrifices.

Brilliantly written and innovative, Ghostwalk is probably one of the most notable books of 2007.

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