Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

Cover of Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss and quote: 'I shivered. Of course, that was the whole point of the re-enactment, that we ourselves became the ghosts, learning to walk the land as they walked it two thousand years ago..'

A couple of years ago I read Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss and I loved it. I still remember how I felt while reading and that tells me that it was a great book. Remembering details like, plot twists and characters is hard when reading so much, but if a book touches my heart in some way, I will never forget it. So naturally, when I saw Ghost Wall at the library I knew I had to read it.

It is a short novella about a girl, Silvie and her parents, mostly her father who is obsessed with history and anthropology. He decides to join an anthropology course which aims to reenact how Brits lived during the Iron Age and he takes his family with him.

If you think this is a fun experiment for this family you are wrong. Silvie’s father is an angry and violent man who keeps his wife and daughter on a tight leash. His word is law and he must be obeyed at all times. Silvie’s mother is in the picture but a bit on the side, she seems lost and defeated, as I guess most women are in an abusive relationship. And Silvie?! Well, this is all she knows, she is careful all the time and emulates her mother, they seem like walking on eggshells every time the father is around.

What will these primitive surroundings bring out in these people? What happens when we strip ourselves of every comfort and live with the bare minimum? Will our true nature be revealed?

This experiment is run by a university professor. There are three students participating apart from Silvie and her parents.

I loved seeing how the presence of these other people give Silvie an other perspective of life. This book is about Silvie’s coming of age, and about domestic abuse. But this book is also about national identity. Silvie’s father is desperate to experience how the real Brits lived, real, unpolluted and ‘pure’. With Brexit still on the horizon, this is a timely topic.

How far is Silvie’s father willing to go and what is he willing so sacrifice for the full authentic experience? The answer is chilling and horrific. The worst is that his hate, prejudice and extremism draws others in, it is chilling to see how the other men go along with his plan.

‘I shivered. Of course, that was the whole point of the re-enactment, that we ourselves became the ghosts, learning to walk the land as they walked it two thousand years ago, to tend our fire as they tended theirs and hope that some of their thoughts, their way of understanding the world, would follow the dance of muscle and bone. To do it properly, I thought, we would almost have to absent ourselves from ourselves, leaving our actions, our re-enactions, to those no longer there. Who are the ghosts again, us or our dead? Maybe they imagined us first, maybe we were conjured out of the deep past by other minds.’

This short novella packs a powerful punch. The setting is haunting, the characters are vivid and the themes are timely. Ghost Wall is a book everyone should read.

I also recommend Elmet by Fiona Mozley. Both have a similar atmosphere and both deal with difficult topics

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