Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- Before her death, Elizabeth tells Lydia, "Cambridge is just a
palimpsest"a word meaning a parchment that has been written on, scraped
off, and used again. What does she mean by this? How does that metaphor
figure in the construction of the novel? Could the metaphor of the
palimpsest represent anything else in the novel other than the city?
- At Elizabeths memorial service, Cameron reads lines from the Wallace
Stevens poem, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird":
When the blackbird flew out of sight / It marked the edge / Of one of many
How are these lines relevant to Elizabeths death? What edges of circles, or
intersecting lives and stories, does Elizabeth now mark even though she has
disappeared from sight?
- Fiction is regarded as a story invented by the imagination, whereas
nonfiction is an account based on facts. Both types of literature are found
in Ghostwalk, and yet the book is a novel. How do the two forms work
together in Ghostwalkdoes one enhance the other or detract from it?
How effective, in your opinion, is fiction in conveying history? How
reliable are historical accounts?
- The novel suggests that obsession is a dangerous preoccupation that can
yield fruitful or disastrous results. What are examples of both outcomes in
- Discuss the role of betrayal in the novel. Who betrays whom and why?
- The narrator is originally skeptical of the supernatural, insisting that
she "knew where reason ended and irrationality began, even if Elizabeth had
forgotten how to find that edge." Does Lydia eventually forget how to find
that edge of reason despite all her protestations to the contrary? Do you
sympathize with her resistance to embrace irrationality and accept the
unexplainable? How did you respond to the ghosts in the novel? Did the
scientific theories in the novel change your ideas about what we think of as
supernatural or beyond the rational?
- "Glass, alchemy, and politics. You couldnt separate them out in the
1660s." Discuss how these elements were intertwined in the 1660s. What
parallels can you draw from the 21st century?
- What was the turning point in the novel where Lydia began believing in
the supernatural? When did you first believe that events were more than
coincidences? What is the first instance of the past encroaching on the
present? How does it proceed from there?
- Language often contains ambiguities and multiple meanings. Stott engages
with the loaded meaning of the verb "to lie" in a number of instances
throughout the novel: "You learned about lying on the river when you were
working as a punt chauffeur. To lie on, to lie under, to lie close, to lie
in wait for." "Lying to you. Lying with you. Lying for you. Can I remember
the difference?" How do the plays of language affect your understanding of
the nature of Lydia and Camerons relationship? If they had been more
forthcoming with each other, do you think events would have unraveled
- "You couldnt work in isolation or be independent." Discuss how Lydias
statement could apply to all of the principal characters in Ghostwalk.
What do they learn or gain from each other? Does that interconnectedness
ever work at cross purposes?
- In Camerons explanation of entanglement theory to Lydia, he describes
Einsteins word for the concept as spukhafte Fernwirkungen, or spooky
action at a distance, which seems especially appropriate given the
supernatural events that occur. How might entanglement theory explain and
complicate Elizabeths drowning? The series of deaths in Newtons time and
murders in present-day Cambridge? Lydia and Camerons relationship?
- Many of the characters in the novel lead double lives. In which
characters is this especially apparent, and how?
- The narrator states, "There was something ancient and pagan about the
animal-liberation campaigns." What is it about the modern political agenda
of animal rights that stirs up the notion of paganism? What is Wills
explanation for the campaigns, the role of NABED, and the Syndicate, and how
does it diametrically oppose Camerons version of events? What do you think
the authors goal was in presenting these two oppositional viewpoints?
- Lydia comments after she agrees to finish Elizabeths book that writing
is a kind of haunting. Do you agree with her sentiment? Do you think it
resonates in other forms of art? Which ones? Who or what else haunts Lydia
as she struggles to complete the book? Does Lydia finally manage to shrug
off her ghosts?
- At the end of Ghostwalk, Lydia dreams she is in a literal and
psychological maze chasing an elusive red figure, a dream that leaves her
bewildered and unable to discern reality. Discuss the significance of this
dream. What are other instances in Ghostwalk where dreams loom larger
than life? How does Stott use dreams as vehicles of discovery and revelation
for her characters?
- How did reading the actual excerpts from Newtons diary and his recipes
for alchemical formulas affect your understanding of him as a character in
the story and as a historical and real person? Are there any inferences you
can draw from this new understanding of Newton that would alter your
perceptions of other important historical figures?
- "It wasnt a benign kind of curiosity. It was something dark and
ravenousravens scavenging over a corpsedark, urgent, and visceral." In
what way is curiosity shown to have violent consequences in this novel? What
does the book seem to have to say about the nature of curiosity?
- At one point Lydia slightly misquotes a line of Robert Brownings to
Cameron: "My interests in the dangerous edge of things. The honest thief,
the tender murderer, the superstitious atheist." How do these lines embody
the preoccupations of the novel as a whole?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Spiegel & Grau.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.