Book Review: Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

Reviewed by Crescenda Long

Last month, I did something that I haven’t done in a while: I took a trip to my favorite book store and deliberately purchased four books that I knew absolutely nothing about. Selecting reading material based solely on title, artwork, and the short cover blurbs is always risky, especially for someone on a tight budget; but in this age of multimedia overload and constant hype, it is refreshing to approach a new piece of literature with zero expectations.

Books as startlingly devastating as Ghost Wall are proof enough of that.

As an exercise in experimental archeology, teenage Silvie and her parents have joined up with a university field group to live in a hut in Northumberland for the summer. Their aim is to recreate Iron Age daily life in an effort to better understand the ancient culture and rituals of that time. But for Silvie’s father, Iron Age history is something of an obsession — a means by which to justify his racism, his sexism, and his aversions to modern British society. Rather than an interesting holiday escape from their daily routines, this summer experiment threatens to become just another opportunity for Bill to exert his chokehold over his wife and daughter.

When the group’s focus shifts from daily hunting and gathering techniques to the construction of their own eerie Iron Age ‘Ghost Wall,’ the narrative takes an even darker turn.

They may be using animal bones instead of human remains, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a sacrifice.

There is so much to unpack in this slim, 150-page novel. Moss weaves a story of how humans once lived in order to illustrate how we live now, but that is only one of this book’s many layers — I sense that this is a story that will hold up again and again through multiple rereadings. And this works because the text is so perfectly balanced. The quick pacing and prose keeps the story from feeling as heavy as it is, right up until the moment when it is meant to strike home (and trust me; that moment will leave you reeling.) This is the kind of book that you can easily read in a day, and that will stay with you for the rest of the year.

Chilling, fascinating, and profoundly disturbing, Ghost Wall is a darkly beautiful work of contemporary fiction that strikes especially hard in today’s political climate. It reminds us that sometimes the demons we invite in are far worse than the ones we think are waiting on the other side of the walls.

You can find out more about Sarah Moss and her work on her website.

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