Ghost Wall
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?A story at once mythic and strikingly timely, Sarah Moss's Ghost Wall urges us to wonder how far we have come from the "primitive minds" of our ancestors.

Ghost Wall Details

TitleGhost Wall
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseSep 20th, 2018
PublisherGranta Books
ISBN-139781783784455
Rating
GenreFiction, Literary Fiction, Contemporary, Horror, Novella

Ghost Wall Review

  • Emily May
    January 1, 1970
    A dark, horrible, and powerful novella.Ghost Wall tells the tale of Silvie and her family, who attempt to live like Iron Age Britons in the North of England. Silvie's father is an angry and dissatisfied bus driver whose obsession with Iron Age tools and rituals leads him to force his family into isolation. Out in the countryside of Northumberland, they hunt for rabbits and gather roots. But, of course, it all has a sinister twist.The harrowing prologue drew me into this book, but the mostly quie A dark, horrible, and powerful novella.Ghost Wall tells the tale of Silvie and her family, who attempt to live like Iron Age Britons in the North of England. Silvie's father is an angry and dissatisfied bus driver whose obsession with Iron Age tools and rituals leads him to force his family into isolation. Out in the countryside of Northumberland, they hunt for rabbits and gather roots. But, of course, it all has a sinister twist.The harrowing prologue drew me into this book, but the mostly quiet pastoral story that follows belies how dark and deep the themes of this novel truly are. Still, it surprises me that so many see this as simply a feminist tale about abuse and downtrodden wives. The domestic abuse is only part of what this book tells us, and it is only the very surface level of the story.What Ghost Wall is really about is identity and misinformed ideas of racial purity. In a time of Brexit, this is a smart and subtle evisceration of "taking our country back"; of going back to some time of pure Britishness. A laughable notion. As is revealed through the conversations and the digging into the past in this novella: there has never been such a thing. Moss's criticism here does not seem to be of men who abuse their wives and children, but of people who revere the past. People who look to racial purity, our ancestors, gender roles, and building (ghost) walls as ideal examples of how to live. She compares modern humans to the Ancients, and neither of us come out looking too good.The only downside is that the ending was a little weak for me.Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube
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  • Amalia Gavea
    January 1, 1970
    ‘’Darkness was a long time coming.’’ This book is my first contact with Sarah Moss’s writing and it proved to be so fascinating...The word Ghost in the title, the bogs and Northumberland drew my attention to a novel that I read in a single sitting. It was mystifying, hypnotic, complex, powerful.It is an unusually hot summer in Northumberland. Silvie and her parents are following a professor and his students in a camp that tries to imitate the daily life during the Iron Age. However, things star ‘’Darkness was a long time coming.’’ This book is my first contact with Sarah Moss’s writing and it proved to be so fascinating...The word Ghost in the title, the bogs and Northumberland drew my attention to a novel that I read in a single sitting. It was mystifying, hypnotic, complex, powerful.It is an unusually hot summer in Northumberland. Silvie and her parents are following a professor and his students in a camp that tries to imitate the daily life during the Iron Age. However, things start going wrong and the camp becomes a field for repressed feeling and the need for justice. Silvie is at the heart of this peculiar, dark storm. ‘’The shadows were long in the grass, the whole moorland low and still in slanting yellow light. In the east the trees stood dark against the sky and all the colours were fading. A late flight of birds winged the air, homeward bound.’’ The writing is extremely beautiful, difficult, demanding as the story is told in long sentences, a technique that makes the atmosphere even more threatening, almost ruthless. At certain times, reading felt painful. Moss uses the richness of the history in the area to create a mystical scenery. Hadrian’s Wall, the wild nature, the ravens coaxing a shadowy future and, above all, the bogs and the sacrificed souls that found an untimely, tragic death in an era of darkness.Darkness and ignorance are two central themes in the story because Moss focuses in the way Silvie’s father, Bill, uses History to justify and express his cruelty and violence over his family, his desire to control everything and everyone. Ignorance in the form of all the prejudices against the people from the North, their accent and mentality. On a more positive note, Moss includes a brief reference to Berlin (...wait for me, you beautiful city, I’ll see you next August! ) and the fall of the Berlin Wall, another vile creation of the human race that so loves to divide and sacrifice, and much less to unite and create.Silvie is a ray of light in the bleakness and pain of the story. Her name is supposedly a diminutive of Sulevia, a goddess of springs and woods. A name chosen by Bill who fails to notice (obviously…) that the origin of the name is extremely Roman. So, Bill is actually the epitome of the culturally illiterate man who wants to appropriate History so that it fits his claims. Now, where have we seen that before? Oh, wait....It is sad to say that this is the least of his faults. He is a horrible, extremist brute. Violent, hideous, trapped in his incompetence and illusions like all extremists. There is no love for his wife and his daughter. Only a twisted obsession to imitate a life that will allow him to freely express his instincts. He is one of the most despicable characters you'll ever come across. Silvie’s mother is equally at fault here, She cannot be acquitted because of her condition. She is weak, pathetically giving way under his psychological and physical violence, unable to protect her child who should have been her only priority. I had no tolerance reserved for her. Not when we have Silvie and Molly, the young women, the fighters and protectors.With a thoroughly satisfying conclusion, this is a haunting story about the bonds of the present and the past, about the cruelty towards the ones who are not allowed to defend themselves, the resistance of youth against violence and tyranny, the need to end patriarchy once and for all. A story that demonstrates the evils brought about by prejudice, extremism, and racism. What could be more relevant to our troubled times?Many thanks to Granta Books and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.word...
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  • Diane S ☔
    January 1, 1970
    My first read by this author, but it certainly won't be the last. I'm not sure I can even adequately explain why. It takes place in Northumberland, an archeological expedition, trying to imitate those that lived during the Iron Age. Silvie is seventeen, her father a bus driver with a obsessive interest in ancient Britain, and a mother who is somewhat of a doormat. Joining them on the professional end is a Professor with three of his students, including Molly who treats this experiment as more of My first read by this author, but it certainly won't be the last. I'm not sure I can even adequately explain why. It takes place in Northumberland, an archeological expedition, trying to imitate those that lived during the Iron Age. Silvie is seventeen, her father a bus driver with a obsessive interest in ancient Britain, and a mother who is somewhat of a doormat. Joining them on the professional end is a Professor with three of his students, including Molly who treats this experiment as more of a lark. Silvies father is an abusive man, who beats his wife and daughter for minor transgressions, instilling fear as a means of control. Needless to say, I despised him. Molly, with her modern ways, will show Silvie a different way of living, and awakens her to new possibilities. The site they are in was the place where an actual bog girl was found, sacrificed by her fellow community members. This fascinates Silvies father greatly.There are mesnings here, and contrasts, some because I don't live in Britain that I didn't get. The history they are living now has an underlying meaning, the ghost wall they build symbolizing the Berlin Wall contrasting with the barriers Molly tries to remove around Silvie, or so I think. The thing is, this is another book short on pages but chock full of symbolism, intriguing. In fact I found her writing to be excellent, and this story to contain fascinating looks at history past and present, combined with a family strory, a young girls awakening, and at the very last a thriller. I loved the end, though I was holding my breath hoping it wouldn't go where I thought it was. Where it went in the end, made complete sense, fit the story perfectly. So now I'm searching out this authors previous works to see if I find them just as intriguing.ARC from Edelweiss.
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  • Michael
    January 1, 1970
    My full review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, can be found on my blog.Eerie and atmospheric, Ghost Wall brings to the surface a teenager's repressed resentment toward her patriarchal father. The novella follows seventeen-year-old Silvie as she and her conservative parents attend a campsite in northern England, alongside the students and professor of an experiential anthropology course, where the group pretends to live as Iron Age Britons. The soft-spoken teen's problems multiply when My full review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, can be found on my blog.Eerie and atmospheric, Ghost Wall brings to the surface a teenager's repressed resentment toward her patriarchal father. The novella follows seventeen-year-old Silvie as she and her conservative parents attend a campsite in northern England, alongside the students and professor of an experiential anthropology course, where the group pretends to live as Iron Age Britons. The soft-spoken teen's problems multiply when her already-abusive father begins to take too seriously the camp's Iron Age playacting, and starts to beat Silvie and her mother. As the story lurches to a terrifying ending, Silvie struggles not only with placating her father but also reigning in her desire for Molly, the course's sole female member. Silvie lacks the vocabulary or self-knowledge to ever name her attraction toward Molly, whom the teen admires as much for her beauty and wealth as her boldness and intelligence. Full of plain but moving descriptions of nature, the short novel convincingly renders the interiority of a young working-class woman prone to disassociation and denial, even if it moves too quickly to fully develop all of the many themes it takes on.
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  • Hannah Greendale
    January 1, 1970
    The line between past and present blurs in this brief narrative about seventeen-year-old Silvie and her family engaged in an archeological re-enactment of life in the Iron Age. Ghost Wall has been described as slim or spare, as mere bones, the charred remains of a book glittering in the ashes. All fitting descriptions for this novella, but here's another take on it: Ghost Wall is a tense short story bloated with filler. The strength of this narrative is Moss' portrayal of domestic abuse, of the The line between past and present blurs in this brief narrative about seventeen-year-old Silvie and her family engaged in an archeological re-enactment of life in the Iron Age. Ghost Wall has been described as slim or spare, as mere bones, the charred remains of a book glittering in the ashes. All fitting descriptions for this novella, but here's another take on it: Ghost Wall is a tense short story bloated with filler. The strength of this narrative is Moss' portrayal of domestic abuse, of the beatings inflicted in secret; never mentioned, always feared, ever and anon a threat to Silvie and her mother. Everything from the justifications and subtle, unyielding tension, to the hiding of bruises and the sense that Silvie is a prisoner rings with truth. And Moss' lyrical descriptions of nature provide a striking backdrop - beauty and innocence marred by the brooding colors of violence and fear. There's a lot of potential here, a larger story simmering beneath the surface, but Ghost Wall promises much more than it delivers. Much like fellow nominee, My Sister, the Serial Killer, this is a book to check out from the library, carefully navigate in one afternoon, and then return for the enlightenment of another. 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.
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  • Rachel
    January 1, 1970
    I've read so many fantastic short novels and novellas this year (On Chesil Beach, Convenience Store Woman, Tin Man) that I'm not sure why I insist on underestimating what can be accomplished in such a short page count. But the fact of the matter is, I picked up Ghost Wall without terribly high expectations, despite the fact that I'd been eager to read Sarah Moss for a while now. More fool me - this book blew me away.It follows Silvie, a teenager from northern England whose family joins an anthro I've read so many fantastic short novels and novellas this year (On Chesil Beach, Convenience Store Woman, Tin Man) that I'm not sure why I insist on underestimating what can be accomplished in such a short page count. But the fact of the matter is, I picked up Ghost Wall without terribly high expectations, despite the fact that I'd been eager to read Sarah Moss for a while now. More fool me - this book blew me away.It follows Silvie, a teenager from northern England whose family joins an anthropology course on an excursion to Northumberland, living for a few weeks as Iron Age Britons once did. From the very start, tensions arise between Silvie's survivalist father who idealizes ancient Britain, driven by nationalism and a yearning to belong to a society where he would be accepted, and the less stringent students who are only participating in the course for college credit. And as the line between reality and play-acting begins to blur, the constant threat of her father's violence draws ever nearer to Silvie, leading to a harrowing climax.Not a word is out of place in this novel; Sarah Moss knows how to command language to navigate the themes of imperialism, violence, class, and gender roles that are all central to this narrative. Tension builds with unerring precision in just about every facet of this story; between the individual and their environment, between modern and primitive life, between Silvie's father and the rest of the group, and between Silvie and Molly, an older girl raised with feminist values who Silvie is drawn to, despite feeling that Molly is overly dismissive of Silvie's own rural upbringing. I'm not sure what else to say, other than: read this book. Ghost Wall is subtle and shocking and absolutely masterful. Thank you to Netgalley, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and Sarah Moss for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Katie
    January 1, 1970
    In a nutshell, I like my feminism a lot more nuanced than this. A short novel about a family who go into the wilds to recreate as best as possible the conditions of an iron age settlement. There's a lot of (good) descriptive nature writing to pad out this very uneventful tale which always felt to me like a short story artificially fattened up. Although set in the 1990s it felt more like the 1950s to me with a father who takes his belt to his teenage daughter for the most meagre of transgressions In a nutshell, I like my feminism a lot more nuanced than this. A short novel about a family who go into the wilds to recreate as best as possible the conditions of an iron age settlement. There's a lot of (good) descriptive nature writing to pad out this very uneventful tale which always felt to me like a short story artificially fattened up. Although set in the 1990s it felt more like the 1950s to me with a father who takes his belt to his teenage daughter for the most meagre of transgressions and a mother who is listlessly and slavishly submissive to the small-minded tyranny of her husband. Three of the four males in this novel are abhorrent, the other is irrelevant. The author's opinion of men comes across as the female equivalent of misogyny. For me, her hostility was way over the top. I wanted to blow a raspberry at the message that not much has changed since the Iron age with regards to the role of women in society.
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  • Hannah
    January 1, 1970
    Sarah Moss is one of those authors I have wanted to get to for what feels like ages because I had this feeling that I would adore her work. But sometimes that feeling of a potential favourite author makes me too anxious to actually pick up a book (this is irrational, I know), so I finally jumped at the chance to read and review her newest novel, because it sounds brilliant and it is quite short (I love short books). And I still think that Sarah Moss might be a potential favourite author, even if Sarah Moss is one of those authors I have wanted to get to for what feels like ages because I had this feeling that I would adore her work. But sometimes that feeling of a potential favourite author makes me too anxious to actually pick up a book (this is irrational, I know), so I finally jumped at the chance to read and review her newest novel, because it sounds brilliant and it is quite short (I love short books). And I still think that Sarah Moss might be a potential favourite author, even if this book did not quite blow me away.This book is set over a period of a couple of days, days Silvie and her family are spending in a experimental archeological setting, together with a professor and a few of his students. While the students can sleep in tents, Silvie’s controlling and obsessive father forces his family to sleep in what he deems “authentic” huts. Silvie latches onto the sole female student, while trying not to make her father angry (and obviously failing, because he always finds something to be angry about). Moss uses this setting to showcast a variety of awful things: abuse and dysfunctional family dynamics, misogyny and sexism, classism and racism. She does so adeptly and impressively, but it does make for a rather grim reading experience.The setting and the atmosphere are the biggest strength of this book. Told in long, run-on sentences (a style I particularly enjoy), Sarah Moss plays with the limited variation of their everyday life. The atmosphere becomes ever more oppressive and instilled with a sense of foreboding that made me very scared for Silvie. Moss is in perfect command of her language in a way that made me savour the words and excited for more of her books.In the end, this book is more a collection of clever observations and vivid scenes than a cohesive whole – it is extremely well-done but did not always work for me. It felt longer than its less than 200 pages because spending time in Silvie’s life is suffocating and repetitive, and while I know that this was on purpose and done exceedingly well, I did not always enjoy my reading experience.I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Granta in exchange for an honest review.You can find this review and other thoughts on books on my blog.
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  • Meike
    January 1, 1970
    Nominated for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2019 What an atmospheric, haunting, and ultimately political read! Sarah Moss writes about teenage Silvie, whose father is obsessed with ancient British history, because he (incorrectly) envisions it as a time of racial purity, strong borders, and dominance as well as (correctly) male authority. He physically and emotionally abuses both Silvie and her passive and fearful mother, thus wielding a power he is unable to exercise in his job as a bus driver. Nominated for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2019 What an atmospheric, haunting, and ultimately political read! Sarah Moss writes about teenage Silvie, whose father is obsessed with ancient British history, because he (incorrectly) envisions it as a time of racial purity, strong borders, and dominance as well as (correctly) male authority. He physically and emotionally abuses both Silvie and her passive and fearful mother, thus wielding a power he is unable to exercise in his job as a bus driver. When the family, who hails from the North of England, joins a group of university students and their professor from the South in a re-enactment of the Iron Age in Northumbria, the mentalities of the self-assured and fun-loving students clash with the grim seriousness of Silvie's choleric father, and while Silvie catches a glimpse into another world, things are slowly escalating...It is wonderful how Moss describes the landscape and the sensations, both beautiful and terrible, people feel when they connect with or confront nature. Silvie's perspective and the way her father's abuse has shaped her worldview are utterly convincing, and the pacing is just perfect - what might happen slowly builds up, and when the revealing sentence finally comes, one still has to read it a couple of times because it is so shocking. I think it is no coincidence that a book like this is written while England is slowly approaching Brexit, but although it is clearly a critique of an envisioned greatness in the good old times that have in reality never existed the way they are re-constructed in order to serve political or ideological goals, the mindset portrayed is not a purely British phenomenon. There are other places in which leaders are promising to make the country "great again" by aiming at abolishing gender equality, closing the borders and targeting minorities. Moss shows how this can result in a dynamic that helps to destroy the last moral taboos, and she wraps her message in a compelling story. The ghosts are not the spirits that are conjured in the ancient rituals, it's the people (in this story wearing loose tunics) who partake in the perversion of truth and science. Cheers to Sarah and Rachel for digging up this gem of a book and pointing it out to our little book club!
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  • Ova - Excuse My Reading
    January 1, 1970
    Full review hereIf there was a contest of writing, that will require telling a story using the least amount of words, this book would win it this year.A borderline novella, Ghost Wall is a powerful story that could easily be read in one sitting.I loved the idea behind this novel. The sacrificed bog girls, whose remains found, as characters they are quiet and unknown, as if they never existed but the proof of them being very much alive is there, in contrast with today's abused women in hands of b Full review hereIf there was a contest of writing, that will require telling a story using the least amount of words, this book would win it this year.A borderline novella, Ghost Wall is a powerful story that could easily be read in one sitting.I loved the idea behind this novel. The sacrificed bog girls, whose remains found, as characters they are quiet and unknown, as if they never existed but the proof of them being very much alive is there, in contrast with today's abused women in hands of bad-seed men.Silvie, short for Sulevia, a Celtic goddess, is living a hard life with her "almost not there" mother and abusive father. This father of Silvie's is a terror. He crushes both the mum and daughter both physically and psychologically. The family is involved in an expedition-like setting, in Northumberland , vast moors, where there is a professor and some students investigating the lives of ancient Britons by replicating the same style of living. Silvie's father, Bill, is helping the professor who is seemingly closing an eye on the ways Bill manipulates and uses his family. Bill is obsessed with 'ancient times' and mimicking the same style of living.It is not a long story, and I don't want to go on talking about the plot. The story is very powerful and dense. There were bits turned my stomach, and other bits where I felt ashamed/stressed reading on Silvie's behalf. It is a dark and depressing novel, but very well put together.Two things I didn't like about this novel, 1- The narration style. I am not sure if someone went out and about this year to young writers, and recommended them to write in a dreamy, first-person voice with long sentences that's shy to include punctuation to get long listed to awards? Why the sudden explosion of this style of writing? I am not a fan.2- The ending. It felt a bit hasty. The start was intriguing, but find the ending the weakest point of the book.Don't get me wrong, this was a really good book. When a book is good, you can't help thinking it could have been better. 4 stars and will definitely be reading Moss again.
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  • Jan-Maat
    January 1, 1970
    I enjoyed this book fantastically, although finishing, it depressed me slightly. I agree wholeheartedly with several of the critical points I've seen about this book but I still appreciated it, and read with graceless haste, four stars? Well maybe 3.499997, or possibly 3.877765, somewhere in that ballpark for me.It reminded me strongly of the completely different, The Tidal Zone, in that book the view point character is the paterfamilias observing his teenaged daughter in her health crisis, awar I enjoyed this book fantastically, although finishing, it depressed me slightly. I agree wholeheartedly with several of the critical points I've seen about this book but I still appreciated it, and read with graceless haste, four stars? Well maybe 3.499997, or possibly 3.877765, somewhere in that ballpark for me.It reminded me strongly of the completely different, The Tidal Zone, in that book the view point character is the paterfamilias observing his teenaged daughter in her health crisis, aware on the of the strains on the whole family, in his book the teenaged daughter observes her father in relation to the world. The father is very controlling, clamping down, enforcing & isolated - the daughter is surprised late in the book by his friendly behaviour towards another man thinking that such gestures of friendship were not in his vocabulary. The daughter is correspondingly repressed to the extent that a fair chunk of the book is her recording what she doesn't say to people. The father's relationship with the daughter is visually manifested in the penultimate scene of the story (view spoiler)[ must restrain myself from giving spoilers (hide spoiler)].I did read the book in part as a Brexit parable, but then Brexit is currently an inescapable theme, the story though is set in the recent past when the idea of a referendum in Britain on EU membership was the cranky obsession of a few peculiar wealthy people not all of whom lived in France, ie the mid 1990s. In a broader and less immediately topic sense it is about the conflict between people seeking safety in tight closed visions of idealised communities or an ideal past and those seeking to escape the confines of such thinking. From the dramatic opening we are warned that this is a process that is unlikely to end comfortably. The ideal past is a fantasy, one that tastes of 1984: Who controls the past, controls the future, and who controls the present, controls the past and the whole book is about power struggles and those who find themselves caught up inside them.Ostensibly the book concerns a summer iron age re-enactment camp in Northumbria, in practise one sees this is more about boys playing in the woods at a pick and mix pre-historic fantasy (view spoiler)[ nothing about what they are doing looks consistently true to any time period in particular, they appear to freely blend the mesolithic into the late iron age nor do they have any serious programme in mind to explore the past through experiment (hide spoiler)]. With the girls on hand to cook and tidy up - because obviously well swept camp sites and regular meals were a typical feature of prehistoric British life. Boys playing in the woods is not right because the game does not seem to be playful, more one about dominance and control which requires somebody to be dominated and controlled. it is plainly not going to end well.This atmospheric and engaging novella worked particularly well for me because the controlling father reminded me of an ex-uncle of mine with similar political attitudes though he was not so liberal as the book father as to allow his wife to work after marriage. I suppose I recognised something in how other people become complicit to such abusive relationships, and how one knows (or could infer) and does not know at the same time what is happening behind closed doors and Moss suggested that very well and economically.A grand piece of writing I felt, its brief 150 odd pages in large print packed full of bog bodies, ghosts and the walls that some seek to build in search of control out of, I imagine, a feeling of inadequacy. Moss achieved brilliant effects on me, catching at me with sharp sentences.
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  • Collin
    January 1, 1970
    LONGLISTED FOR THE 2019 WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION.Silvie is the seventeen-year-old protagonist of this novel. Silvie’s mother works as a cashier, while her father drives a bus. Her father however thinks of himself as an historian and has a passion for England’s History, particularly the Iron age and how the people survived and lived back in this period. It is this passion which sees Silvie and her family invited along to a camping expedition to Northumberland by Professor Slade. Professor Slade LONGLISTED FOR THE 2019 WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION.Silvie is the seventeen-year-old protagonist of this novel. Silvie’s mother works as a cashier, while her father drives a bus. Her father however thinks of himself as an historian and has a passion for England’s History, particularly the Iron age and how the people survived and lived back in this period. It is this passion which sees Silvie and her family invited along to a camping expedition to Northumberland by Professor Slade. Professor Slade takes a group of students out into the wild to live and survive as the ancient Britons did back in the Iron age as a part of his course. Things seem normal at first but as time goes on, we see the father’s true nature start to emerge. Silvie’s father’s views on life and women are as draconian as the lifestyle of the ancient Britons they are copying. Not only that, we find he has a violent streak, that he enters when he “punishes” his wife and daughter for anything he deems as punishable. I tend to use the word palpable too much, but it describes Silvie’s fear perfectly. You can feel how terrified she is of making some mistake which will result in her or her mother being beaten. The tension builds slowly for such a short novel and leads to a climactic ending. Moss’s writing is beautiful and very descriptive. I have never been anywhere near the bogs and marshlands she describes but after reading her writing I feel like I have. A wonderful, short, powerful book. 4 stars.
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  • Jenny (Reading Envy)
    January 1, 1970
    A quick read set in Northumberland, with some academics practicing "experimental archaeology" by trying to live as they did during the Iron Age. Also present - a controlling man with his wife and daughter, who do this every summer. The story is more about the daughter trying to move through life while she endures abuse.I was hoping for an anthropology novel but found more similarities with other novels/memoirs about controlling men who move their families off the grid - think the first half of E A quick read set in Northumberland, with some academics practicing "experimental archaeology" by trying to live as they did during the Iron Age. Also present - a controlling man with his wife and daughter, who do this every summer. The story is more about the daughter trying to move through life while she endures abuse.I was hoping for an anthropology novel but found more similarities with other novels/memoirs about controlling men who move their families off the grid - think the first half of Educated by Tara Westover, Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller, or Elmet by Fiona Mozley. If you enjoyed those books, this is a book for you! I received a copy of this from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. It came out January 8.
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  • Antonomasia
    January 1, 1970
    This is the kind of 3-star rating that means 5 stars for some things, and 2 stars for others. Ghost Wall is brilliant in some ways - but its political implications are not fully coherent, and there are details that don't ring true if you're familiar with the setting and subject. Historical re-enactment and retro living doesn’t get a great press in fiction. (See for example, Todd Wodicka’s All Shall Be Well", Valentine in Nicola Barker’s The Yips, or more tenuously, Confederacy of Dunces) Perhap This is the kind of 3-star rating that means 5 stars for some things, and 2 stars for others. Ghost Wall is brilliant in some ways - but its political implications are not fully coherent, and there are details that don't ring true if you're familiar with the setting and subject. Historical re-enactment and retro living doesn’t get a great press in fiction. (See for example, Todd Wodicka’s All Shall Be Well", Valentine in Nicola Barker’s The Yips, or more tenuously, Confederacy of Dunces) Perhaps the authors who like the idea are writing historical fiction or history, instead of contemporary novels about efforts to live in historical ways, meaning those which are published hijack the subject as comment on politics and personalities. With this being Iron Age re-enactment, and set in the 1990s, it’s possible Moss was inspired by the 2001 BBC reality /re-enactment show Surviving the Iron Age. A team of volunteers, some of them the adult children of participants from a similar 1978 series Living in the Past, tried to re-enact Iron Age life, argued and created a lot of drama, albeit not as lurid as this book. (With hindsight, it shows that this sort of thing may be best left to professionals such as Ruth Goodman and Peter Ginn. Incidentally, I would love to hear what Goodman's daughter - who grew up in a re-enactor family, clamoured to learn historical skills from her parents, and now works as a costume designer and textile historian - thought of Ghost Wall.)What’s great about the book:- The descriptions of landscape, interaction with it, and of bodily sensation are vivid and visceral and I found every one worth lingering over. (This was the full-strength, fresh-pressed stuff, whereas Daisy Johnson’s Booker shortlisted Everything Under, which I read straight afterwards, was like dilute from concentrate.) Sarah Moss captures and communicates exactly what it feels like for her narrator standing in a stream, or wearing a coarse fabric, or hundreds of other similar physical feelings.- This narrative understands brilliantly what it’s like being a strong-minded teenager living with a problematic and equally strong-minded parent. (Or perhaps more precisely, what it was like before, but not very long before, the internet arrived in homes and reduced isolation.) There's a great evocation of the way a lot of stuff seems so normal experientially, whilst you also know it's not for everyone; Silvie usually narrates her father's rages with an underlying half-stoic tone of “oh, this shit again” rather than with the pumped-up horror some writers bring to similar material. I love the way Silvie keeps thinking about when she’ll leave home: I’ve always described it as years of holding your breath, but as Silvie shows, you’re also doing a lot of thinking and learning and storing things up during that time, and it’s really a lot more than waiting. I never had to put up with physical punishment after primary school age, or being hit with implements, but the way that Silvie details events that lead up to the beating (which doesn't even happen until 40% into the book), then almost skims over the moment itself without going as far as dissociation, rang very true from what I remember as a younger child. - Moss understands the sorts of details that historians and re-enactors care about. I’ve always wanted to do re-enactment, but have never done it for health reasons. First I ruled myself out on accuracy grounds (I see now that nice people who have less hardcore-accurate attitudes than my own would have been fine with my participation, with a couple of adjustments and allowances, if I’d ever actually asked) and then later, with poorer health, I just couldn’t have anyway. I’ve thought before that if I’d been healthier and had a child I would have taken them along to do re-enactment and survival stuff. In the first third or so of the book, every detail and dashed expectation that winds up Bill, Silvie’s dad, for historical or environmental reasons, is something that would inwardly annoy me in this scenario - except that I’d have started out knowing I had to accept these sorts of preferences from a kid, even if I was secretly disappointed they didn’t want to stick to the level of detail I did. (It's difficult to separate positive from negative neatly by topic here, and there were a handful of details about the re-enactment that seemed off the mark: for instance it didn’t make sense to me that they hadn’t tried the recipes out at home, even if that would have been with a modern cooker. There is absolutely no mention of Silvie’s grandparents or any other antecedents and family origins. In portraying the claustrophobia of an abusive family in another context, this would have only added to the atmosphere of isolation, but for a man so steeped in, or obsessed by, history, it was just peculiar that Bill never referred to his immediate ancestry. This was one of a number of points which seemed so odd to omit that I wondered if swathes had been cut out of the book after a much longer early draft.)- It made me reconsider teenage favourite The Secret History (which was incidentally, first published in 1992, a couple of years after Ghost Wall is set). Warning: spoilers for The Secret History follow. People, even nice people, getting carried away in atavistic, ectastic states. I think a lot of us Secret History fans back then (at least not the ones I made friends with in my twenties) didn’t mind very much that it was Bunny they killed; we didn’t really like him either. If it had to be one of them, it should have been him. (Although it would have been better to just, y’know, stop speaking to him as soon as they could after college.) It was like we were bystanders, part of their crew. But here, it’s the sympathetic narrator who’s on the receiving end, not a distant and sometimes obnoxious rich loudmouth – she's likeable and strong in certain ways, but also victimised and vulnerable. - Silvie’s tentative attraction to another girl was wonderfully written: at that time, and being from a strict home, even at 17, just looking felt far more daring and deliberate than might be imagined in many parts of the UK in 2018. Moss shows how it was both very subtle and not. On the other hand:- Yes there was a brief heatwave in summer 1990, but overall this is not convincing weather for the Hadrian's Wall area and the Northumberland coast back then. Where's the relentless breeze whipping hair in your face and meaning outside, even in summer, rarely feels warmer than sitting in a draught under a meagre electric bar heater? I suspect Moss is basing weather on recent visits, and the weather is warmer now all over Britain than it was 25-30 years ago.- I felt that details of the time in Britain c.1990 were about 50% beautifully observed, and 50% questionable, leading me to make dozens of notes about these things which it would be excessive to list in full here. (Moss is a few years older than I am, probably a contemporary of Silvie, so I would have expected her to get these things right.) A few examples: lovely to remember calling hairbands bobbles (scrunchies would have been too obtrusively modern to wear in the re-enactment setting) Good call mentioning cities in Eastern Europe which were newly, excitingly open for inter-railing, and how the fall of the Berlin Wall created a buzz everywhere. Very much on point to have the university students so squeamish about butchering rabbits and clueless about foraging: ten years or so later and they'd have likely been wanting to prove themselves, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall style. However, some of the phrases and ideas used about feminism and domestic abuse are very, very social media in the 2010s. And I think it's unlikely there would have been such loaded insinuation by twenty-year-olds about the idea of a 'proper British name' at that time: that's mid-to-late 2010s concern about the rise of the far right talking. I think in the 90s it would have just been a more neutral response like "so as far back as you can go then?" Silvie is somewhat sheltered from average teenage life by her overbearing father, but she goes to a mainstream state school in Lancashire: it's pretty much impossible she wouldn't know what 'the North' means in England and that Lancs is part of it, even if to Geordies Lancs is, jocularly, the Midlands. - All this led me to wonder if Moss had researched which ideas were current in Iron Age archaeology in 1990. (The only contradiction I could see was that back then, nearly all the bog bodies on the news and in documentaries seemed to be male, whereas Silvie, via her father, perceives them as mostly female. Perhaps academic books gave a different impression, but given the attention that the media tends to pay to female murder victims, I remained sceptical.) I was frustrated to think that I might be reading anachronistic ideas about archaeology when I didn't know this era well enough to spot them. So another review of Ghost Wall which I'd love to read is by someone who studied Iron Age archaeology at least 30 years ago, and has kept up with the field to some extent since.. - On the subject of one particular character, I found it impossible to believe that a student with poor results like Molly, who wasn’t enthusiastic about re-enactment, and went off to get processed food from the shop every chance she got, would have got a place on a specialised very small group trip like this. An opportunity like this would be very much in demand and would go to students who would obviously make the most of it. [November: A comment below reminded me that these were undergraduates, who aren't always that serious about their subjects, so not actually that implausible. Thank you!] She was one of several elements which felt shoehorned in for political and plot purposes. A female student who was enthusiastic about re-enactment, and also saw that Bill was abusive, would have been fairer to re-enactment and experimental archaeology as pursuits and communities, and to real women who are leaders or free participants, and not pushovers or victims roped in by men – and a more realistic character - but she wouldn’t have carried the convenient symbolism of “modernity (and implicitly consumerism and capitalism) is better for women”.-----Ghost Wall is really a political novel about Brexit, and about a somewhat intertwined literary-world conflict about the recent British nature-writing revival and predominantly theoretical links with right-wing politics. These subjects should have been handled with considerably more nuance and care - however that would probably have been difficult to do within the confines of a short novel with a neat beginning, middle and end. If this is the result, even in the hands of an author who can produce great prose, I think these issues are better left to discursive non-fiction. Bill is moulded into an all-round bogeyman for the contemporary British left: nationalist, racist, male chauvinist, domestic abuser, misuser of history for his own political ends. It couldn't be more obvious that he'd have voted for Brexit, though one imagines him too wiry to be called a Gammon. (His anti-Catholic bit was odd: Bill is otherwise consistent about 'the longer ago the better' in history, and besides Lancashire was historically a centre of post-Reformation Catholic recusancy. A Lancastrian with a strong sense of history would be particularly likely to see Catholicism as having a deeper link to the past than Protestantism. I felt that Moss was trying to evoke the meme of Henry VIII's Reformation as the 'first Brexit', but to the well-informed reader this runs aground, and shows another example of this project's trading of deep character plausibility for superficial political shorthand.) Bill is the only working-class male character in the novel (there's not even a mention of his father, or a friend of his), and in a symbolic book with such a small cast, he inevitably looks like he is meant to represent his entire type. Silvie (whose knowledge and skills are as good as her dad's, and better than the students a few years older than her) does stand up against small instances of largely unwitting snobbery displayed by the students and their professor, but the overall effect of the alignments in the book is to say that working class white men, even when they are well-informed, are not well-informed enough, they are prejudiced, and that as laypeople with a specialist interest in an academic field, they're still doing it wrong, not properly like actual academics do. Middle-class professionals, academics and women know better than Bill: it's exactly the kind of smug-liberal juxtaposition that contributes to the problem of political division in this country. He confirms the lazy prejudices of metropolitan middle-class people who live in socio-political bubbles; this sort of thing is not part of the solution artistically. Ghost Wall may also subtly initiate these readers into a currently small cultural and political debate about nature-writing and politics, which may not have touched them before, especially if they haven't read Melissa Harrison's recent novel All Among the Barley - which, by being set in the 1930s, explicitly indicates the roots of this anxiety, which is currently theoretical as far as the public is concerned: in 2018 there are no significant blocs of voters, or spokespeople in national media actually espousing Nazistic blut und boden combinations of racist far-right politics with conservation. There are evidently small numbers of people incontrovertibly like this, and who also have an interest in nature writing and folklore, as evidenced by the Twitter hashtag campaign FolkloreAgainstFascism. (A bit about that halfway through this blog post.) However, so many cultural features of the last 20-25 years can be pulled into the idea of Britain having been on a slippery slope to that, via Britpop, Bake Off, Boden, and psychogeography - as in this extract from Joe Kennedy's new book Authentocrats that it will make some people want to say despairingly, "so we aren't allowed anything nice at all?" (I guess the time has passed for the 90s Cool Britannia idea that most other countries don't equate their national flag or pride in their country's cultural output with racism so maybe Britain shouldn't either. That also lacks a bit of nuance, but there has to be something decent inbetween rabid white nationalists, and reviving the British cultural cringe for the sake of political asceticism.) Now people who have never been racist nationalists feel like they have to apologise for tastes and opinions that were not in the least questionable a while back, because a few people at the other end of the political spectrum might share a few of those tastes. (e.g. here, third paragraph after the second picture.) As Green politics and other forms of hippy-ism are still so strongly aligned with the left in the public imagination (in Britain at least - the UK doesn't have the big right-wing homesteader tradition of the US, or the Russian or Nordic trend of far-right involvement in neopaganism) these concerns are currently mostly an argument between a few social media posters and writers and artists. (I thought I was fairly aware of debates in this area, but other than the extract from Authentocrats I hadn't seen the articles linked in the last paragraph until a couple of days before writing this review, and afterwards I thought it seemed best to move Paul Kingsnorth further down my very long Goodreads list of favourite authors.) Today I remembered - and made a note in - a four-year-old review of mine which has aged badly because of its scepticism about a dystopian scenario, so I shouldn't be too confident in what I say here. But I feel that increasing literary energy focused on attacking a minor tendency may be a cul-de-sac that distracts from pressing and concrete issues, like how the left can appeal politically to pro-Brexit voters, common interests and tastes that may unite people in an aggressively divided country, and the increasing urgency of addressing climate change, the depletion of nature and the disgusting extent to which humans waste resources. And compared with the literary authors and Twitter posters involved in this conversation, fantasy authors who create multicultural versions of British myths, like Ben Aaronovitch and Paul Cornell have a far bigger readership. (I haven't read Cornell myself, but thanks to Alex for mentioning the bit about the Asian vampire whom supernatural forces recognise as British due to his love of tea.) They connect better than any of these discussions and insinuations with my first experience, in my teens, of getting to know someone else who was as much into all this sort of history and folklore and tweedy, crickety Englishness stuff as I was, a friend who's mixed-race; we were both only half British by heritage and more into these things than the British people our age whom we knew, and so on a gut level I never felt these subjects to be automatically exclusionary, although that is the conclusion some draw from them. Nonetheless, I doubt too many people will let Ghost Wall put them off re-enactment if they feel like having a go - Goodman et al are too friendly as public faces and get a far larger audience - and I hope they won't be overly worried about re-enactors they may meet socially. (The ones I've met are all lovely and some of the least judgemental and most accepting people I've had the pleasure to be friends with.)I decided to request a free ARC of Ghost Wall on Netgalley because I thought I'd have a lot to say about it in a review. But I didn't count on taking 5 days, rather than 5 hours, to read such a short book (I paid such close attention, and thought and noted so much that I probably could have written the entire novella out by hand in the time taken) nor on taking a month to finish the last few paragraphs of the review.
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  • Paul
    January 1, 1970
    A brilliant little novella that can easily be read in one sitting. For a brief story with a simple plot, there is so much going on. It is set in Northumberland, in a hot summer in the early 1990s, in an Iron Age re-enactment camp. There is Professor Jim Slade and three of his students: Pete, Dan and Molly. Then there is the narrator, seventeen year old Sylvie (named after Sulevia the Northumbrian goddess of springs and pools) and her mother and father (Bill). Bill is a bus driver who is obsessed A brilliant little novella that can easily be read in one sitting. For a brief story with a simple plot, there is so much going on. It is set in Northumberland, in a hot summer in the early 1990s, in an Iron Age re-enactment camp. There is Professor Jim Slade and three of his students: Pete, Dan and Molly. Then there is the narrator, seventeen year old Sylvie (named after Sulevia the Northumbrian goddess of springs and pools) and her mother and father (Bill). Bill is a bus driver who is obsessed with history and spends all of his spare time researching the past, especially the Iron Age. He is also a violent bully and personifies the phrase coercive control. He beats his wife and daughter and feels that is entirely appropriate. History seems to show him that women should know their place. The title comes from the ghost walls built in the Iron Age; wooden with skulls on the top. Another central theme is a girl found in a bog who had been sacrificed by her community, hands and feet tied with a rope round her neck. There are numerous themes here. Domestic abuse is obviously one of them and this illustrates that abuse isn’t a modern phenomenon. Bill is also seeking an “England” which never existed, a people who were purely British and who were fighting off alien invaders: shades of Brexit of course, the ghost wall being symbolic of attitudes to and fear of outsiders. Ironic, that as the Berlin Wall has just fallen, there is a symbolic reconstruction here. There is a growing tension between Sylvie and her father, she is seventeen and will soon be out of his control and he doesn’t want this. The writing is excellent, especially in relation to the landscape and the heat and there are interesting descriptions of foraging and living off the land:“I saw a bog myrtle bush leaning over the water downstream, pewter leaved, and picked my way towards it, rubbed a leaf between my fingers and inhaled the scent of eucalyptus and sandalwood. I squatted for a little while on the bank and listened to the sounds of the night, no birds now but the stream hurrying over stones it had worn to roundness, small lives rustling somewhere within reach, a distant owl and a nearer response.” Of course the students soon discover the location of the local Spar shop. The naming of Sylvie assumes more importance and the plot builds towards a possibly brutal climax. Along the way Sylvie and Molly have built a bond which becomes significant. This is a perceptive and telling reflection on our current times (Moss started writing it just after the Brexit vote). It shows just what “us and them” divisions really lead to.
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  • Peter Boyle
    January 1, 1970
    This unsettling story revolves around a historical re-enactment in Northern England. A professor has invited Silvie, our 17-year-old narrator, and her family to join him and three students on a field trip, where they will live for a few days as Iron Age Britons. They wear itchy tunics, sleep in uncomfortable roundhouses and forage for food. Silvie enjoys the company of the students, particularly the outspoken, independent Molly. Gradually we learn that Silvie's father is abusive towards her and This unsettling story revolves around a historical re-enactment in Northern England. A professor has invited Silvie, our 17-year-old narrator, and her family to join him and three students on a field trip, where they will live for a few days as Iron Age Britons. They wear itchy tunics, sleep in uncomfortable roundhouses and forage for food. Silvie enjoys the company of the students, particularly the outspoken, independent Molly. Gradually we learn that Silvie's father is abusive towards her and her mother. Tensions begin to rise in the camp and the story builds to a shocking climax.It doesn't take long to realise that Silvie's father is a deeply frustrated individual. His day job as a bus driver is totally unsatisfying to him. History is his real passion, especially the pre-Roman British era. All of his knowledge his self-taught - reading between the lines, he didn't have the opportunity of third-level education and he seems massively resentful of this. On his days off, he drags Silvie to museums and sites of archaeological interest. I get the feeling he would have voted for Brexit - he sees the Iron Age as a pure period of English history, unsullied by foreigners, and laments the state of modern Britain: "Cranes reared above us like the ceremonial pillars of a lost civilisation, intricate with rust and disintegration. The windflowers and morning glory that are either holding together or pulling apart England’s abandoned buildings and roads and railways flattened under the weather. Look at this, he said, look at it. Used to send ships all over the world from here. Look at it now." He is also a violent, racist man, lashing out at his family as if they were the source of his unhappiness. Silvie is tough, she has to be, but it broke my heart to see how terrified she is of him. At one point she has a little disagreement with Molly, and she is amazed when asked to accept her new friend's apology: "So do you forgive me, she said, and I, having never, so far as I knew, been asked that question by anyone before, looked at her all rosy and fair, smelling somehow of nice soap, said yeah, sure, course I do, it’s fine." Sarah Moss packs a whole lot into 152 short pages - she explores themes such as class, feminism and xenophobia with such skill and insight. She also writes so beautifully about nature and landscape, but there is always an undercurrent of danger to it, keeping with the book's ominous tone. Ghost Wall is an intense, unforgettable story of menace and survival from an extremely talented writer.
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  • Sara
    January 1, 1970
    I get where this novella was going - it’s a short but sharp examination of xenophobia and it’s ridiculously nonsensical commentaries from those who insist Britain must remain ‘British’. We follow family unit of mum, Iron Age obsessed dad and Sylvie as they join a group of university students on an ‘experimental anthropology’ expedition that sees them reenacting life in the Iron Ages on the Northumberland moors. Except this is more than just an experiment for Sylvie’s dad, who believes that this I get where this novella was going - it’s a short but sharp examination of xenophobia and it’s ridiculously nonsensical commentaries from those who insist Britain must remain ‘British’. We follow family unit of mum, Iron Age obsessed dad and Sylvie as they join a group of university students on an ‘experimental anthropology’ expedition that sees them reenacting life in the Iron Ages on the Northumberland moors. Except this is more than just an experiment for Sylvie’s dad, who believes that this is how Britain should be, at its best. I just couldn’t engage at all with the writing style. It’s almost stream of conscious-like, and at times I had to reread sentences multiple times to understand what was going and who said what. It disrupted the flow of the story significantly for me, and I struggled a lot trying to connect with what was going on. I really think this would have benefitted from reading it all in one go, as there was never really a good point at which the story comes to a natural lull before the end and perhaps I might have gained more insight reading it this way. I liked Sylvie, and I felt sympathy for her situation as she comes across as desperately sad and scared, without anyway out of her situation because of a man who likes to hold all the power without any opposition (her father). At time’s we see her fight this, giving backhanded comments to get a rise from her father when surrounded by the university students, but it’s always comes with a later punishment. Her father comes across as extremely bitter, misogynistic and xenophobic. He clearly sees himself as a proper ‘man’s man’ who believes that women should stay in the kitchen while men go hunting, and Britain has been in decline since the introduction of other nationalities. He’s very black and white, and I think this lack of any subtle depth really didn’t help me warm to the story. A different read for me, that carries an interesting message, but the writing style was very off putting.
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  • Susan
    January 1, 1970
    I have enjoyed the writing of Sarah Moss since reading, “Cold Earth,” in 2009 and was delighted to receive her latest work for review. This is a short novel, almost a novella, but still retains a huge amount of depth and interest. A group of people are gathered for a trip in ‘experimental archaeology,’ recreating an Iron Age camp in Northumberland. There is the professor, Jim Slade, his students; Molly, Dan and Peter, and Silvie and her family. Silvie is seventeen and lives with her downtrodden I have enjoyed the writing of Sarah Moss since reading, “Cold Earth,” in 2009 and was delighted to receive her latest work for review. This is a short novel, almost a novella, but still retains a huge amount of depth and interest. A group of people are gathered for a trip in ‘experimental archaeology,’ recreating an Iron Age camp in Northumberland. There is the professor, Jim Slade, his students; Molly, Dan and Peter, and Silvie and her family. Silvie is seventeen and lives with her downtrodden mother, Alison, and her father, Bill Hampton. Usually a bus driver, Bill is obsessed with Ancient Britain and is often used to give practical help, or trade information, with academics. Resentful of those he perceives as ‘better than him,’ Bill is aggressive, over-bearing and abusive. Alison has learnt to keep her head down. Silvie knows that, however she tries, she will annoy him and then she will have to pay the consequence.This is an excellent portrayal of the dynamics of a group, thrown together and trying to recreate the past, while being very much in the present. There are those who are simply there out of interest and those, like Bill, who take it very seriously indeed. With a glimpse into real life sacrifices, which took place long ago, the men decide to build the ‘ghost wall,’ of the title – a wooden fence, topped with animal skulls to keep out invaders. Suddenly, without warning, things begin to get just a little serious...As always, Moss writes beautifully. This did end a little abruptly and I would have been happier if she had fleshed this out, as it was an interesting idea and I thought the characters well drawn. Even Bill had a warmer side, as Sylvie thinks back and remembers times when he has been kind to her – trying to include her in his interests, but, ultimately, controlling and short-tempered. Still, this is well worth reading and I enjoyed it very much. I received a copy of this from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.
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  • Trudie
    January 1, 1970
    Well this was .... it was fine I guess. The title was cool, I was preparing for something a little more perturbing like say Fever Dream , something creepy with Bog people. In actual fact it was far more enlightening to me to read this 2016 article from The Atlantic, but I digress. I place this book alongside The Water Cure and The Natural Way of Things ( this last one mainly for the unfortunate demise of several bunnies) but in all three novels, women are repressed in various ways by tyrann Well this was .... it was fine I guess. The title was cool, I was preparing for something a little more perturbing like say Fever Dream , something creepy with Bog people. In actual fact it was far more enlightening to me to read this 2016 article from The Atlantic, but I digress. I place this book alongside The Water Cure and The Natural Way of Things ( this last one mainly for the unfortunate demise of several bunnies) but in all three novels, women are repressed in various ways by tyrannical men and I struggled to admire them because they lacked nuance. Ghost Wall was probably the most enjoyable of these books. Sarah Moss is an engaging writer and I particularly enjoyed her writing of landscape. It is notable she has her main character Bill searching for evidence of Ancient Britons to support his xenophobic / nationalist ideals. I read him as a frustrated bus-driving Tommy Robinson. Maybe a larger canvas might have allowed this story to be fleshed out in more interesting ways, maybe as a reader I am just not good with these smaller novella sized novels. I feel frustratingly caught between wanting something shorter and sharper or something twice as long with more characterisation and backstory. This landed as neither fish nor foul.
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  • Emma
    January 1, 1970
    The beauty of this novel is in the clash between the bountiful, exuberant language which builds into this incredibly crisp picture, detailed and vibrant, and the terse, one sentence revelations that hold implications, secret knowledge, shared experience of such emotion that it feels like all the words in the world couldn't reveal the depths of it, but somehow say it all. Once you are lost in the flow of Silvie's story, it is mesmerising, the inevitability of violence like a gathering storm with The beauty of this novel is in the clash between the bountiful, exuberant language which builds into this incredibly crisp picture, detailed and vibrant, and the terse, one sentence revelations that hold implications, secret knowledge, shared experience of such emotion that it feels like all the words in the world couldn't reveal the depths of it, but somehow say it all. Once you are lost in the flow of Silvie's story, it is mesmerising, the inevitability of violence like a gathering storm with her at its epicentre.The dynamics of the group are tense from the start, each interaction representative of a jostling for or demonstration of power on the part of some, and the deliberate, desperate attempts of others to mediate, to avoid, to escape. Most of all it is the story of a family in which abuse and love play against each other, illustrated by a pattern of bruises and other hurts. The scenario might be particular, but the experiences are intensely recognisable- I know these people. Even if this work has been highlighted as a critique of much larger things, it is in these intimate, personal interactions that Moss does her best work, the inner workings of a family forced to bear the critical gaze of outsiders.Yet it ends too soon, with a suggestion of resolution but no real catharsis for the reader. I checked back to see if I had missed something, if pages were missing. Perhaps that's meant to say something of the fragility of Silvie's fate, but it still felt like I'd been cheated of something.Nevertheless, my first introduction to Sarah Moss's work was exciting and memorable, i'll be looking for more. ARC via Netgalley
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  • Paul Fulcher
    January 1, 1970
    Now longlisted for the 2019 Women's PrizeWe’re seeing if we can make a ghost wall, said the Prof, sitting back on his haunches. I was just telling your dad, it’s what one of the local tribes tried as a last-ditch defence against the Romans, they made a palisade and brought out their ancestral skulls and arrayed them along the top, dead faces gazing down, it was their strongest magic.Sarah Moss's Ghost Wall sparked connections for me with two excellent novels - Melissa Harrison's recent All Among Now longlisted for the 2019 Women's PrizeWe’re seeing if we can make a ghost wall, said the Prof, sitting back on his haunches. I was just telling your dad, it’s what one of the local tribes tried as a last-ditch defence against the Romans, they made a palisade and brought out their ancestral skulls and arrayed them along the top, dead faces gazing down, it was their strongest magic.Sarah Moss's Ghost Wall sparked connections for me with two excellent novels - Melissa Harrison's recent All Among the Barley (my review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) and Paul Kingsnorth's highly innovative, and Goldsmiths shortlisted, 20145 novel, The Wake (my review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...).Harrison's novel, set in rural Suffolk in the 1930s, features a fictional Order of English Yeomanry, based on real-life groups that were common at the time, with a back-to-nature English nationalism that strayed easily into support for fascism. As Harrison explains in an afterword:"These complex, fragmented groups differed from one another, sometimes slightly, sometimes profoundly; but all drew from a murky broth of nationalism, anti-Semitism, nativism, protectionism, anti-immigration sentiment, economic autarky, secessionism, militarism, anti-Europeanism, rural revivalism, nature worship, organicism, landscape mysticism and distrust of big business – particularly international finance."Kingsnorth's novel is set in 11th century England, and the 'hero' of his novel, the narrator buccmaster is part of the Anglo-Saxon "resistance" in the wake of 1066 and the Norman conquest. But the buccmaster's views, and his quest to preserve authentic Englishness, rather stray again into xenophobic nativism. Interestingly in this novel, while Kingsnorth presents buccmaster warts-and-all, for example he is clearly a coward as well as delusional as to his own importance, one strongly suspects the author's sympathy lies with his views. Kingsnorth has caused significant controversy recently for his eco-nativist views that have strayed into supporting Brexit and, while not supporting certainly at least understanding other disruptive politicians of the left and right (Putin, Trump etc).This article of his own in the Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...) contained the troubling passage: It must be 20 years since I read the autobiography of the late travel writer Norman Lewis, The World, The World, but the last sentence stays with me. Wandering the hills of India, Lewis is ask by a puzzled local why he spends his life travelling instead of staying at home. What is he looking for? “I am looking for the people who have always been there,” replies Lewis, “and belong to the places where they live. The others I do not wish to see.”This rather ridiculous concept of 'a people who have always been there' was part of Sarah Moss's motivation for writing Ghost Wall. She explains in detail here (http://www.sarahmoss.org/on-prehistor...) but she nails the story of 'foundation myths' as she calls them in this paragraph, including exposing buccmaster's folly:Foundation myths live in prehistory, back just before the inconvenient truths of the historical record, and foundation myths feel very relevant at the moment. I live in a country where xenophobia and nativism have become normal in the last couple of years, where the rights of people perceived not to be British, or not British enough, are routinely denied.In this story, the country was better before the immigrants came, when all the inhabitants were native British. When, I wonder, was that? Before the Windrush? Before the Empire brought people from India and Ireland and parts of Africa to live and work in Britain in the nineteenth century? Before the transatlantic slave trade? Before William and Mary came from Holland to rule us? Maybe before the Norman Conquest, before all those French people brought wine and made us stop speaking Anglo-Saxon? No, because the Angles and the Saxons came from the Nordic countries via France (Saxony, in fact). Before the Anglo-Saxons we had the Romans, bringing underfloor heating and literacy but definitely not British and not even, actually, very Roman; there were Syrian and German troops in Yorkshire and Northumberland two thousand years ago, coming over here and making the roads run straight. And writing things down: there were runes and bits of script before the Roman conquest of Britain but our historical record begins with the arrival of those foreign troops. The ‘Britons’ who experienced that invasion had come, a few generations earlier, from Ireland and Brittany (Britain is named after part of France), their material culture distinctively Celtic. There were people in these islands before the Celts came, and they left some stones and bone fragments, just enough for us to know that they, too, came from elsewhere. Go back far enough and we all came out of Africa, or Eden if you prefer a foundation myth to archaeology. Either way, according to the logic of national blood, none of us belong on these islands.As for the novel itself, Ghost Wall actually tells a relatively simple story, indeed at 160 pages it feels more like a novella than a novel, and indeed one suspects could have been slimmed down further to a 50-60 page story was the form more commercially viable in the UK.It is narrated by Silvie, a 17 year old girl. She is in Northumberland with her father, a bus driver by profession but amateur historian, and her mother. The three have joined a University professor, and three students from his 'Experiental Archaeology course. And yes that does read Experiental, not Experimental: the group are camping in the Northumberland national park, with its extensive peat bogs, reconstructing, as best they can, iron-age life.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 reenactions, 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.The teenage Silvie, in her narration, rather pokes fun at the inauthenticity of some of the reconstruction, although any comments are made sotto voce for fear of upsetting her father, who takes the whole thing very seriously: When I woke up there was light seeping around the sheepskin hanging over the door. They probably didn’t actually have sheep, the Professor had said, but since we weren’t allowed to kill animals using Iron Age technologies we would have to take what we could get and sheepskins are a lot easier to pick up on the open market than deerskins. While I was glad we weren’t going to be hacking the guts out of deer in the woods with flint blades, I thought the Professor’s dodging of bloodshed pretty thoroughly messed up the idea that our experiences that summer were going to rediscover the lifeways of pre-modern hunter gatherers. The clue, I muttered, is in the name, you know, hunter gatherers? What was that, Silvie, said Dad, would you like to repeat what you just said to Professor Slade? Oh, please, call me Jim, said Professor Slade, and don’t worry, I have teenagers myself, I know what it’s like. Yeah, I’d thought, but your teenagers aren’t here, are they, gone off somewhere nice with their mum I don’t doubt, France or Italy probably.Although Sil defends her father when the rather cynical students joke about his views, for example her name, a 'proper British name' according to her father.Silvie, what, short for Sylvia? Sulevia, I said. I was about to say, as I had been doing since I first started school, she was an Ancient British goddess, my dad chose it, but they were already exchanging glances. Sulevia’s a local deity, said Dan, Jim was talking about her the other day. Northumbrian goddess of springs and pools, co-opted by the Romans, said Molly....A proper British name. What’s he mean by that, then? Nothing, I said, he likes British prehistory, he thought it was a shame the old names had gone. Right, said Pete, you mean he likes the idea that there’s some original Britishness somewhere, that if he goes back far enough he’ll find someone who wasn’t a foreigner. You know it’s not really British, right? I mean, Sulevia, it’s obviously just a version of Sylvia which means – of the woods in Latin.I said, yes, I do know, a Roman corruption of a lost British word.But more troubling aspects start to emerge. A description of seeing her mother when she returns to the camp from a foraging trip contains within it, the casual but disturbing There was a new bruise on her arm.. And as she walks along Hadrian's Wall, her own thoughts of the many diffuse voices that would have been present among the Roman forces (echoing the author's blog above) cross into thoughts of her father's nativism:I half closed my eyes, imagined hearing on the wind the Arabic conversations of the Syrian soldiers who’d dug the ditches and hoisted the stones two thousand years ago. I tried to hold the view in my mind and strip the landscape of pylons and church towers, to see through the eyes of the patrolling legion fresh from the Black Forest. They weren’t even really Roman, Dad had said, they were from all over the show, North Africa and Eastern Europe and Germany, probably a lot of them didn’t even speak proper Latin. There were even Negroes, imagine what the Britons made of that, they’d never have seen the like. We were only two days out from Newcastle, a city that had upset Dad, and I knew better than to challenge him; even the word ‘Negro’was already some concession to my ideas because he preferred to use a more offensive term and wait, chin raised, for a reaction.As her father and the professor and the two male students get increasingly enthusiastic, they decide to reconstruct the ghost wall of the title, and my opening quote, albeit using rabbit skulls rather than their own dead. The female student Molly points out the 'boys with toys' aspect:I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, said Molly, it kind of reminds me of Swallows and Amazons but they’re grown men. Those little drums and a willow fence with rabbits’heads on top, for what, to keep out the Romans?While Professor Slade and her father argue about whether the ghost wall would have had any effect on Roman troops, her father arguing that the ancient Britains 'saw off' the Romans, and the Professor that Hadrian's wall was more of a 'Rome woz here' monument than anything defensive:It would just have been intertribal squabbles up here, the Prof was saying, until the Romans came, no training at all for taking on the imperial army, they’d never have seen the like. At least part of their defence was magic, did you know that? War trumpets, scary noises coming at you over the marsh. Aye, said Dad, maybe so, you’re thinking of the carnyxes, but they had their horses and swords as well, didn’t they, put up quite a fight and after all sent them packing in the end, there weren’t dark faces in these parts for nigh on two millennia after that, were there? ...Well, said the Prof, they weren’t exactly British, as I said before, they wouldn’t have seen themselves that way, as far as we can tell their identities were tribal. Celts, we tend to call them these days though they wouldn’t have recognized the idea, they seem to have come from Brittany and Ireland, from the West. Dad didn’t like this line. Celts, I suppose, sounded Irish, and even though Jesus had only recently died at the time in question Dad didn’t like the Irish, tended to see Catholicism in much the same light as the earlier form of Roman imperialism . Foreigners coming over here, telling us what to think. He wanted his own ancestry , wanted a lineage, a claim on something. Not people from Ireland or Rome or Germania or Syria but some tribe sprung from English soil like mushrooms in the night.Except from Swallows and Amazons, it instead all gets a bit Lord of the Flies at the end as the men decide to re-enact another of the ancient Briton's rites, one inspired by the bog bodies found in the local peat, including Lindow Man, which she and her father saw at the Manchester Museum.Overall: the theme of the novel is very important, and as mentioned links with one in two of my favourite British novels of the last 5 years. As mentioned, the story itself is perhaps a little insubstantial for a novel, albeit Moss packs a lot in there including themes my review doesn't even touch on (misogyny, some snobbery from the Southern English students and professor to Silvie's Northern family, her own emerging and confused sexuality).But as a negative, where Kingnorth was not afraid to show us the flaws in his protagonist despite sharing his views, Moss doesn't do Sil's father the courtesy of giving him any real redeeming features: in particular his temper-triggered domestic abuse seemed an unnecessary addition to his faults.But still a stimulating and quick - perhaps too quick - read. 3.5 stars.Thanks to the publisher via Netgalley for the ARC.
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  • Renee Godding
    January 1, 1970
    Actual rating: 3.5/5 stars “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.” With Sarah Moss being the author of one of my all-time favorite novels The Tidal Zone, it’s no surprise that I was only a matter of time before I picked up her latest release Ghost Wall. This time, Moss focusses on the relationship between a father and a daughter, set against the background of a Actual rating: 3.5/5 stars “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.” With Sarah Moss being the author of one of my all-time favorite novels The Tidal Zone, it’s no surprise that I was only a matter of time before I picked up her latest release Ghost Wall. This time, Moss focusses on the relationship between a father and a daughter, set against the background of a quite unusual anthropological experiment: two weeks of iron-age reenactment. Silvie’s father has an obsession with this time period, that exceeds the normal professional curiosity of an anthropologist. He idolizes the way of life, when “times were simpler” and his dominant view of masculinity was the norm. At first, Silvie and her mother reluctantly agree in the reenactment, but as the days go by, they begin to wonder how dad is willing to go with his obsession. Sarah Moss is at her best when writing family dynamics, and proves this again in this novel. With only a few scenes she paints a crystal clear picture of the characters, their relationships as a family, and the dynamics at bay, without ever saying a word too much and spelling out the obvious. She needs little set up to create an incredibly tense and uncomfortable situation, and the ending of this novel genuinely had me a little unnerved and on the edge of my seat. The darker themes are balanced out with beautiful prose, and some very interesting observations, that are as lyrical and sharp as Moss’s other works. Despite all the above mentioned good, I was left with a feeling of wanting more after finishing it. With its 152 pages, Ghost Wall inhabits that shadowy area of not quite being a short story, but not quite a full length novel either. Although the story stands on its own just fine, I feel like there was more potentially to it than was included in the novel. With its current length, some things simply went a little too quickly and ended a little too abruptly for my taste. I would have happily read another 100 pages, if that meant that more of that potential could be released. I’m not fully committed to my rating yet, as Ghost Wall seems to be the type of book with a lasting aftertaste, and I feel myself still processing and digesting it even after putting it down. I might get even more out of it once it sits with me for a while. I’ll update if my opinion changes, or if I feel like I want to add to this review.
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  • Jerrie (redwritinghood)
    January 1, 1970
    A creepy story about primitive culture and an abusive father. The story is mainly about how a teen girl deals with her father’s abuse during a summer camping trip designed to experience Iron Age culture. I may have detected a bit of nationalism here, too, in the father’s preference for this early British culture. Wonderful writing, but I wished the story hadn’t been so brief. 3.5⭐ A creepy story about primitive culture and an abusive father. The story is mainly about how a teen girl deals with her father’s abuse during a summer camping trip designed to experience Iron Age culture. I may have detected a bit of nationalism here, too, in the father’s preference for this early British culture. Wonderful writing, but I wished the story hadn’t been so brief. 3.5⭐️
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  • Daniela
    January 1, 1970
    At first sight, Ghost Wall is a tale of domestic violence. The father terrorizes the mother who keeps making excuses for him, unable to escape his cruelty, and the teenage daughter who tries to hide the abuse from everyone, torn between defiance and shame. But Ghost Wall is much more than that, which is why it’s such an astonishing little book. It takes a lot of talent to be able to convey all the impressions and subtleties Sarah Moss gets across to us in such a short number of pages. Ghost Wall At first sight, Ghost Wall is a tale of domestic violence. The father terrorizes the mother who keeps making excuses for him, unable to escape his cruelty, and the teenage daughter who tries to hide the abuse from everyone, torn between defiance and shame. But Ghost Wall is much more than that, which is why it’s such an astonishing little book. It takes a lot of talent to be able to convey all the impressions and subtleties Sarah Moss gets across to us in such a short number of pages. Ghost Wall succeeds at intersectionality, one of those things that are very in vogue in today’s literary fiction – and deservedly so, especially when done well. It’s about women and their condition, how even today in 21th century England women can be conditioned to think that men are just supposed to be in charge because it’s how things are, a nature-given power. But the violence inflicted upon these two women, the mother and the daughter, is exacerbated by the father’s racism and nativism. It’s not to say of course, that racism and sexism are always sides of the same coin, but it seems logical that when someone holds certain discriminatory beliefs they might go all the way. At the same time, if one understands the dynamics of sexism, it seems logical to assume that their eyes will also be opened, sooner or later, to the realities of racism. In this case, the father justifies his violence by his belief that in the olden times (Really Old Times, like, before the Vikings) things were as They Should Be. Britain was better in the Iron Age when men hunted, women cooked and there were no foreigners. Ironically, the father’s called Bill, short for William – a Germanic name from the continental tribes that invaded England, and popularized by the Norman Conqueror, Guillaume. That’s what you need to know about this book: the violent, racist man is named after all the things he most hates. This is a must-read and, what is more, a fast read. I’m not sure if it will win the Women’s Fiction Prize, and I’m guessing there are stronger contenders, but I definitely recommend this to everyone.
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  • Gumble's Yard
    January 1, 1970
    Now longlisted for the 2019 Women's Prize. 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 reenactions, to those no longer ther Now longlisted for the 2019 Women's Prize. 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 reenactions, 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. My first book by this author, a Professor of Creative Writing – and a book I would not be surprised to see featuring on next year’s Women’s Prize longlist.The book is a slim novella – less than 150 pages of well-spaced writing – and best read in a single sitting (or perhaps even better in a single squatting on uncomfortable ground) as a way to experience the real-time way in which the first person, 17 year old, narrator Silvie tells her story. And my reference to experiential reading is deliberate – as the set up of this novel is that Silvie (actually Sulevia – named by her father after a Northumbrian Goddess), is with her amateur-archaeologist/historian bus-driver father and mother, joining some field work a University professor – Professor Slade – is conducting with three of the students (two male, one female – Molly) on his Experiential Archaeology course: the purpose of the field work to camp in the peat bogs of a Northumberland national part and, for a few days, attempt a historical reconstruction of Ancient Briton iron-age lifestyles (wearing authentic clothes, hunting and gathering food and so on).A number of things become quickly clear to the reader in turn: Silvie’s father’s enthusiasm for the fidelity of the historical recreation is stronger than the Professor’s (who for example sears socks inside his animal skin moccasins) and even more so than that of his students (whose enthusiam for gutting animals is much lower than for absconding to shops for illicit snacks); Silvie’s father’s enthusiasm for the recreation reflects his belief in a more genuine ancient way of life: one that features the original real natives of the land, that does away with the softness and distractions of modern life and which also has an unquestioned patriarchal structureThat Silvie’s father imposes, as far as he can, such a lifestyle on his family’s day to day living – in particular using physical and mental abuse to control his wife and to attempt to control his daughter’s emerging independence (increasingly expressed by cheeky asides – which often result in beatings) and sexuality (something which comes more to the fore as she sees how Molly interacts with the boys but also finds herself drawn to Molly).At first the camp divides along family/university lines. The professor and Silvie’s father clash over Hadrian Wall – Sylvie’s father convinced it shows the immigrant dominated Roman army was unable to overcome the resistance of the Ancient Britons – the Professor arguing firstly that the Wall served little defensive function and was more of a statement, and that the “Britons” would have no concept of themselves other than as a series of disparate tribes. Silvie resents what she sees as the class/regional condescension of the students towards her father.Things, however, change when the men (and Silvie) reconstruct the eponymous Ghost Wall – a wall assembled by the ancient Britons and topped with the preserved, and magically imbued remains of the dead (substituted by animals skulls) and the men discover a shared sense of power and meaning from the reconstruction. Silvie is drawn increasingly to Molly who tries to get her to admit and confront her father’s abuse and the story culminates in Sylvie allowing herself to be drawn into the reenactment of a bog-based female sacrifice – which causes Molly to involve the police.For a short book – it is packed with themes, the clearest of which is the idea of a flawed nationalistic view which both harps back to an immigrant free/pure native world which never existed and which is intrinsically bound up with a longing for a time when misogyny was not only acceptable but intrinsic to societal structure. Overall a quietly impressive novel.
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  • Paula Bardell-Hedley
    January 1, 1970
    “I didn't quite know how to ask anything of my own. How do you leave home, how do you get away, how do you not go back?” When I started reading Ghost Wall, the forthcoming novel from Sarah Moss about a group of people setting up camp close to Hadrian’s Wall as an exercise in experiential archaeology, I surmised from the demeanour of Silvie, its protagonist (and narrator), she was far younger than her actual age. I took her to be a precocious eleven, possibly twelve-year-old, only to discover af “I didn't quite know how to ask anything of my own. How do you leave home, how do you get away, how do you not go back?” When I started reading Ghost Wall, the forthcoming novel from Sarah Moss about a group of people setting up camp close to Hadrian’s Wall as an exercise in experiential archaeology, I surmised from the demeanour of Silvie, its protagonist (and narrator), she was far younger than her actual age. I took her to be a precocious eleven, possibly twelve-year-old, only to discover after reading for some time she was in fact seventeen. The reason for my misjudgement was partly her father, Bill’s behaviour towards her, since he treated her like a little girl, but also because she complied with his every wish in a most un-teenage-like way.Bill Hampton is a bus driver from Burnley with an all consuming interest in the lives of Ancient Britons and an enormous grudge against those he perceives as belonging to a higher or more educated class than his own. His depth of knowledge about living off the land has gained him a reputation among academics as being a handy amateur to have on call, and has led to him being invited, along his wife and daughter, to spend a short period living in a remote, authentically recreated Iron-Age village in Northumberland.The family share the experience with Professor (“call me Jim”) Slade and the students responsible for building the village and making the scratchy tunics and crude moccasins they now must wear. Silvie is immediately attracted to the only female student in the group, a confident, prepossessing individual called Molly, who seeks to educate (some might say ‘lead astray’) her slightly younger friend.At Bill’s insistence, Silvie (short for Sulevia) and her mum, Alison, move with him into a great open-plan roundhouse, sleeping on lumpy handmade bunks, while the others – much to his chagrin – opt to pitch their waterproof tents around the place. Bill is a stickler for authenticity and detests anything that reminds him of the modern world. His list of dislikes also include women’s “undies”, footling about “like an old woman” and female sanitary products (which, he says, women managed “well enough without back in the day”). It is probably an understatement to suggest that women in general make Bill feel queasy.It becomes apparent fairly early in the novel that Bill is both bigot and bully, though he skilfully conceals the results of the rough treatment he deals out to his wife and daughter from others in the camp. Alison tells Silvie her father can’t help his behaviour, that he’s always had a bad temper, and advises her to simply do as he says. She certainly tries to keep him happy, but she’s a bright young woman and forgets herself by “answering him back” (i.e., makes perfectly sensible comments and suggestions).As Bill’s conduct becomes ever more obsessional and domineering, Molly begins to see that all is not well with the Hampton’s. Then events come to a head when a re-enactment of a sacrificial ritual is taken too far.In her Acknowledgements, Sarah Moss reveals that the genesis of this story came firstly from participating in a Northumbrian residency to celebrate the Hexham Literary Festival, and then from the ‘Scotland’s People’ exhibition in the National Museum of Scotland, where she spent time with “the possessions and bodies of Iron and Bronze Age residents of the borderlands.”Moss’s slender novel, which I devoured in one sitting, is menacing and brutal, but also filled with yearning, sensuality and hope. It has much to say about female affinity and friendship. “Because they are men, I thought, because they're in charge, because there will be consequences if you don't. I didn't see how she could not know that.” Many thanks to Granta Publications for providing an advance review copy of this title.
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  • Bill Kupersmith
    January 1, 1970
    You know that Ghost Wall is a work of literary rather than genre fiction because the characters’ direct discourse is not set off by inverted commas. It is also absurdly overpriced - in a minuscule format scarcely larger than a pocket diary with lots of white space between the lines to pad it to 152 pages at £12.99. And yet it is scarier than all get out, an excellent horror story that Shirley Jackson would have envied having written. Silvie (which stands for Sulevia, supposedly the name of some You know that Ghost Wall is a work of literary rather than genre fiction because the characters’ direct discourse is not set off by inverted commas. It is also absurdly overpriced - in a minuscule format scarcely larger than a pocket diary with lots of white space between the lines to pad it to 152 pages at £12.99. And yet it is scarier than all get out, an excellent horror story that Shirley Jackson would have envied having written. Silvie (which stands for Sulevia, supposedly the name of some Celtic goddess) is a 17 year-old girl in Northern England sometime later in the last century. (Why that time period? I suspect because it’s before mobile phones.) Her father Bill (shudder!) is a keen amateur archaeologist fascinated with the Iron Age in pre-Roman Britain, particularly bodies of strangled sacrificial victims preserved in bogs. The book begins with a 3rd person account of such a ceremony, setting us in the proper mood of horror. Subsequently the tale is narrated by Silvie. In real life Bill is a bus driver and bully and autodidact and abusive boor. I expect an American equivalent would be a Civil War re-enactor or the like. He forces his wife (a doormat) and daughter to wear scratchy woollen tunics without underwear and live on a diet of burdocks and rabbits in a tent made of skins. (The bunnies are quite inauthentic because according to Bill they were introduced by the Romans tho’ I’ve been told they didn’t arrive till 1066 with the Normans.) Besides Bill and his wife and daughter, we have Professor Slade and three students who are participating in a unit of Experimental Archaeology and living in nylon tents. Molly, a posh girl from the south of England, befriends Silvie and encourages her to sneak into town for treats. Molly wears expensive underwear and goes to pubs. As it turned out, she was my favourite character. It seems a fascinating coincidence that I should have read recently three books featuring daughters with obsessive abusive fathers living in the woods: Claire Fuller’s Our Endless Numbered Days, Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling, and this story by Sarah Moss. Tallent’s is repulsive rubbish full of excessive violence and obsession with firearms (so naturally nominated for literary fiction prizes), Fuller’s is excellent and affecting with the daughter Peggy too young and isolated from her German mother to know how she is being abused by a parent who is mad. Silvie I find harder to characterise; she seems a common type of British working-class character who is intelligent enough to realise that something is really wrong with her situation, but regards resisting her father - as well as going to university and speaking proper English as a betrayal of her roots and heritage (which is one reason I was so pleased with Molly’s role in the plot). I thought Professor Slade was the worst character in the story. On one level he’s a humourist who regards the entire experiment of primitive living as a huge joke and yet encourages Bill’s sadistic and perverse appetites.As we approach the ending I was really scared and was glad this book is not longer even tho’ absurdly overpriced. Personally I found the denouement most appropriate. But not every reader will agree, I suspect. I hope somewhere in the ghostly realm the shade of Shirley Jackson is enjoying it; I’d love her opinion.
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  • Dannii Elle
    January 1, 1970
    Actual rating 4.5/5 stars.Ghost Wall follows teenage Silvie as she journeys with her iron-aged obsessed father to a week spent reliving the day-to-day of those who came before. They are joined with their world-weary mother, a professor in the field, and three students. The mismatched group learn to forage for berries, hunt for their dinner, and unpack the stories of the lives lost to the wild bog that surrounds them. But the longer the group spend exposed to this wild way of life the more the ec Actual rating 4.5/5 stars.Ghost Wall follows teenage Silvie as she journeys with her iron-aged obsessed father to a week spent reliving the day-to-day of those who came before. They are joined with their world-weary mother, a professor in the field, and three students. The mismatched group learn to forage for berries, hunt for their dinner, and unpack the stories of the lives lost to the wild bog that surrounds them. But the longer the group spend exposed to this wild way of life the more the echoes of the past start to overpower their modern sensibilities.I have never before experienced such a threat seem to emanate from the page. Moss delivered her story with such skilful artistry that tension exuded in every sentence. Nature turned from setting to sinister seventh character, as the pages progressed, and I became too aware of the careful placement for every facet for this multi-layered narrative. Yet, however, I was still completely taken by surprise at the sinister unravelling of plot.I only expected to read a few pages of this and ended up binging through the whole thing, in one sitting. It was nothing to what I thought it would be like, but still completely mesmerising, and involved one of the most harrowing story lines I have ever experienced.I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the author, Sarah Moss, and the publisher, Grant Books, for this opportunity.
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  • Eric Anderson
    January 1, 1970
    Like many people, I was hugely impressed by Sarah Moss’ previous novel “The Tidal Zone” for the way its story meaningfully drew the past into the pressing concerns of its characters in the present. She uses a similar technique in her new novel “Ghost Wall” but in a much more compressed form that combines a tense story with a strong statement about issues in modern Britain. Teenage Silvie is taken on a unique archaeological trip in Northern England by her parents along with a few students and a p Like many people, I was hugely impressed by Sarah Moss’ previous novel “The Tidal Zone” for the way its story meaningfully drew the past into the pressing concerns of its characters in the present. She uses a similar technique in her new novel “Ghost Wall” but in a much more compressed form that combines a tense story with a strong statement about issues in modern Britain. Teenage Silvie is taken on a unique archaeological trip in Northern England by her parents along with a few students and a professor. Rather than searching for artefacts they seek to recreate the feeling of living in Iron Age Britain as closely as possible. This means wearing nothing but burlap sacks, foraging for what food they can in the forest and living in primitive shelters. It also includes antiquated rituals like building a wall out of skulls and other unsavoury acts which grow increasingly alarming and bizarre. The values that Silvie’s father holds are skewed towards an outdated ideal of masculinity and gender dynamics which Silvie gradually comes to question. For such a short novel, this book builds up to a thrilling and memorable conclusion.Read my full review of Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss on LonesomeReader
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  • Roman Clodia
    January 1, 1970
    Because they are men, I thought, because they're in charge, because there will be consequences if you don't. I didn't see how she could not know that. A short, almost impressionist piece of writing in which Moss swirls together strands about gender, class, prejudicial nationalism and a kind of atavistic mentality that foreground both the use and abuse of power. The writing is subtle and loaded, the tension rising with the heat and the increasing violence as rabbits are skinned for food, their h Because they are men, I thought, because they're in charge, because there will be consequences if you don't. I didn't see how she could not know that. A short, almost impressionist piece of writing in which Moss swirls together strands about gender, class, prejudicial nationalism and a kind of atavistic mentality that foreground both the use and abuse of power. The writing is subtle and loaded, the tension rising with the heat and the increasing violence as rabbits are skinned for food, their heads boiled for the construction of the menacing ghost wall. The lord-of-the-flies-alike ending is both flagged from the start but also not quite believable - and leaves us a little stranded as the piece ends abruptly. Nevertheless, the control in the writing is striking, and Moss has created a nicely complicated relationship in that between Sylvie and her father: her memories of their closeness when she was a child, the security of holding his hand, offering both a stark contrast and key to their present tension. Best read in a single sitting, this is a spare and powerful piece of writing alive to small movements, moments of complicity and rebellion, and the consequences that ensue.Thanks to Granta for an ARC via NetGalley.
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