Completed: Ghostwalk

Cover: Ghostwalk by Rebecca StottGhostwalk
Rebecca Stott
U.K., 2007

Over the last two years, as I have tried to tease out the truths from the untruths in that series of evenst that seeped out through Elizabeth’s death, like lava moving upwards and outwards through salt water from a tear in the seabed, I have had to be you several times, Cameron Brown, in order to claw myself towards some kind of coherence. Sometimes it was–is–easy to imagine the world through your eyes, terribly possible to imagine walking through the garden that afternoon in those moments before you found your mother’s body in the river. After all, for a long time, all that time we were lovers, it was difficult to tell where your skin ended and mine began. That was part of the trouble for Lydia Brooke and Cameron Brown. Lack of distance became–imperceptibly–a violent entanglement.

So this is for you, Cameron, and yes, it is also for me, Lydia Brooke, because perhaps, in putting all these pieces together properly, I will be able to step out from your skin and back into mine.

(Opening, Chapter 1)

Some years back I went though a brief phase where I would randomly decide to pop in the bookstore and buy a book or two, not because I wanted a specific book, but because I wanted to buy a book, any book. It didn’t necessarily result in the best of purchases, but fortunately for my pocketbook, that store went out of business and I haven’t been impressed by the replacement.

One of the books that was a result of this shopping spree was Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott. I can’t say that I’d ever heard of it outside of the bookstore shelves, but the cover art was intriguing, as was the description—a mysteriously drowned Cambridge historian with an unfinished manuscript about Isaac Newtown, another, younger writer (Lydia Brooke) asked to finish the book, and promises of mystery, danger, conspiracy, and history.

Alas, outside of the history—far and away the most enjoyable part of the book for me—the promises failed to deliver. As I was reading, determined to actually finish (I have a fault of not being able to deliberately abandon books unless the library demands a return), I turned it over to the back and reread the blurbs:

…hypnotic brew of speculations, intrigue, and murder…” (Washington Post Book World)

You won’t have time to reflect on Stott’s metaphysics, at least not on the first read—you’ll be too eager to solve the murders.” (Los Angeles Times)

Had we read the same book?

It seems to me that Ghostwalk is trying to be too many things, or at least the “literary” version of too many things—mystery, supernatural, thriller—and not quite hitting the mark. It does belong—and I think this is perhaps one of the reasons for so much critical praise from the professionals—to that class of books commonly called “literary fiction,” and succeeds most strongly when dealing with the relationships between characters and in the history it blends into the narrative. But I never felt that the mysterious deaths had any real heft to them; they seemed more background rather than stakes-raising propositions. The only mystery that seemed to matter revolved around what was supposed to be in the missing final chapter of the manuscript, and the supernatural pathways that Lydia began to follow seemed quaint rather than serious—this despite the narrative’s assertion that one of these ghosts was really quite dangerous; the prose put too much distance between the reader and the danger. Overall, I found it an unsatisfying read. It never made me work hard, but it wasn’t light enough to be pure entertainment, and somehow even the resolution seemed rather run-of-the-mill. Alas, despite a promising premise, in the end, it just didn’t quite work for me.