GHOST WALL by Sarah Moss
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, January 8, 2019
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.