Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
In the north of England, far from the intrusions of cities but not far from civilization, Silvie and her family are living as if they are ancient Britons, surviving by the tools and knowledge of the Iron Age.
For two weeks, the length of her father’s vacation, they join an anthropology course set to reenact life in simpler times. They are surrounded by forests of birch and rowan; they make stew from foraged roots and hunted rabbit. The students are fulfilling their coursework; Silvie’s father is fulfilling his lifelong obsession. He has raised her on stories of early man, taken her to witness rare artifacts, recounted time and again their rituals and beliefs—particularly their sacrifices to the bog. Mixing with the students, Silvie begins to see, hear, and imagine another kind of life, one that might include going to university, traveling beyond England, choosing her own clothes and food, speaking her mind.
The ancient Britons built ghost walls to ward off enemy invaders, rude barricades of stakes topped with ancestral skulls. When the group builds one of their own, they find a spiritual connection to the past. What comes next but human sacrifice?
This year I decided that I wanted to read any books on the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist that caught my attention. I have already read An American Marriage, Circe, and The Silence of the Girls– click the links to find my reviews!
I had been hearing so many amazing things about Ghost Wall, and seeing it longlisted was a great excuse to finally get to it. I am so glad that I did! It is remarkable what Sarah Moss was able to do in 152 pages. I often end up wish that short books like this one were longer and more detailed, but that was not the case with Ghost Wall.
This book took me on a journey. The story starts off innocent enough, with a family on a vacation trying to live as though they were in the Iron Age. As it goes on you start to realize that something more sinister is going on just below the surface. There is so much tension that was built and I was constantly on edge. A lot of that came down to her writing; it is engaging and atmospheric.
There are definitely feminist themes in this story, and while sometimes it felt heavy-handed, it was empowering. I absolutely adored Molly and how she stood up not only for herself but for Silvie. She was a breathe of fresh air in a book full of horrible and unlikable characters. I also appreciated some of the historical elements that were weaved through the story.
Ghost Wall has one of the most intense endings I have read in a long time. I was feeling claustrophobic just reading it.
Because the book is short, I think it is best going in to it knowing next to nothing. Ghost Wall is a story that will haunt you long after you put it down. It is my first book from Sarah Moss, and I am hoping to pick up more of her work. I so hope that it ends up being longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction.