by Sarah Moss
In the north of England, far from the intrusions of cities but not far from civilization, Silvie and her family are living as if they are ancient Britons, surviving by the tools and knowledge of the Iron Age.
For two weeks, the length of her father’s vacation, they join an anthropology course set to reenact life in simpler times. They are surrounded by forests of birch and rowan; they make stew from foraged roots and hunted rabbit. The students are fulfilling their coursework; Silvie’s father is fulfilling his lifelong obsession. He has raised her on stories of early man, taken her to witness rare artifacts, recounted time and again their rituals and beliefs—particularly their sacrifices to the bog. Mixing with the students, Silvie begins to see, hear, and imagine another kind of life, one that might include going to university, traveling beyond England, choosing her own clothes and food, speaking her mind.
The ancient Britons built ghost walls to ward off enemy invaders, rude barricades of stakes topped with ancestral skulls. When the group builds one of their own, they find a spiritual connection to the past. What comes next but human sacrifice?
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.
I read Sarah Moss‘ memoir, “Names for the Sea“, back in July 2017 and it really wasn’t my cup of tea. Speaking to some people about it, they asked whether I had read any of Moss’ fiction. I didn’t know a great deal about this author and I certainly didn’t know that she wrote fiction, but I was assured that it was worth a read. A few years later, I was fortunate enough to win a copy of ‘Ghost Wall’ in a competition on Twitter and having kept it on my shelf for a couple of years, I’ve finally worked up the courage to give it a go.
Let’s just say I was wrong to be apprehensive. “Ghost Wall” has turned out to be one of my favourite reads of the year!
The story follows Silvie and her family who have joined an anthropology course living for as the Iron Age Britons had once done. It’s not Silvie’s idea of a fun summer holiday, but it’s her dad’s passion and she and her mum are reluctantly giving it a go. As you can imagine, the students aren’t too fussed about the experience and are more concerned about the credit it will have towards their degrees, Silvie’s father, however, idealises ancient Britain and is keen to make sure they are all taking things seriously. Plus, he’s not the kind of man you want to get on the wrong side of.
This is a short book, a novella, so I wouldn’t want to say too much more and spoil it, but with a constant threat of violence, this is a tense page turner. I felt that this book was well written and extremely atmospheric. It’s quite an unusual story, but it certainly packs a powerful emotional punch.
I’d definitely recommend this book and will be looking out for more fiction by Sarah Moss.