Ghost Wall

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...

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Title:Ghost Wall
Author:Sarah Moss
Rating:
Edition Language:English

Ghost Wall Reviews

  • Rachel

    I've read so many fantastic short novels and novellas this year (

    ,

    ,

    ) 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

    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 (

    ,

    ,

    ) 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

    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.

    is subtle and shocking and absolutely masterful.

  • Amalia Gavea

    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

    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 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

  • Paul

    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.

  • Susan

    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.

  • Ova - Excuse My Reading

    If 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

    If 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.

  • Diane S ☔

    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.

  • Meike

    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 Eng

    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!

  • Hannah

    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 to 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 to 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

  • Katie

    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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