Ghost Wall: Book summary and reviews of Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

Ghost Wall

A Novel

by Sarah Moss

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss X
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
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  • Published in USA  Jan 2019
    144 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

A taut, gripping tale of a young woman and an Iron Age reenactment trip that unearths frightening behavior.

The light blinds you; there's a lot you miss by gathering at the fireside.

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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. The novel's highlight is Silvie, a perfectly calibrated consciousness that is energetic and lonely and prone to sharp and memorable observations ... This is a haunting, astonishing novel." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. Thought provoking on multiple levels, with insights into primitive and modern societies, and coming of age in the face of family violence." - Library Journal

"Tackling issues such as misogyny and class divides, Moss packs a lot into her brief but powerful narrative." - Booklist

"A thorny, thoroughly original novel about human beings' capacity for violence." - Kirkus

"Starred Review. [Ghost Wall] is further proof that [Moss is] one of our very best contemporary novelists. How she hasn't been nominated for the Man Booker Prize continues to mystify me – and this year is no exception ... a gripping narrative ... It's an intoxicating concoction; inventive, intelligent, and like no other author's work." - The Independent (UK)

"Ghost Wall, a slim but meaty book, is like nothing I have read before; its creepy atmosphere has stayed with me all summer ... Moss combines exquisite nature writing, original characters and a cracking thriller plot to make a wonderful literary curiosity. It deserves to pull her out of the bog of under-appreciation and on to the prize podiums." - The Times (UK)

"Stunningly good, a tightly written, powerful book about archaeology and Englishness." - The Observer (UK)

"Moss truthfully conveys the way teenage girls make friends ... In just 149 pages Moss does a remarkable job at building an engaging, textured world and Silvie is a likeable heroine. You root for her - and she might just surprise you." - Evening Standard (UK)

"[Sarah Moss is] this divided country's most urgent novelist. Her themes: the cycles of history, male absurdity, the forms female subversion may take, in irony, sickness and sacrifice. It helps that she's absurdly topical, and that she's funny." - The Spectator, "Books of the Year"

"Moss slowly ratchets up the tension, much as the Iron Age people they are studying used to slowly twist a length of rope around the necks of the human sacrifices they made, up on the nearby moors." - The Scotsman (UK)

"[Combines] the components of a thriller with a nuanced understanding of history, its fluctuating interpretations and its often traumatic effect on the present ... Moss's sensual writing recalls the late Helen Dunmore ... A bold, spare study of internecine conflict." - New Statesman (UK)

"The 'ghost wall' of the title becomes a powerful metaphor for the invisible boundaries that exist between different groups of people, not just in the past but also at the present time. Sarah Moss combines her research interests in food, place and material culture to good effect." - Press Association/The Telegraph (UK)

"Moss's finely balanced novel combines a strong sense of the natural world with a growing atmosphere of menace, interspersed with wry humour." - The Mail on Sunday (UK)

"Sarah Moss is fascinated by bodies and isolation, and by bodies in isolation...What provokes and perpetuates that capacity for harm, and what powers a mystical belief in its propitiatory value, remains eerily unclear, but no less urgent a concern for us than for our ghostly forebears." - The Observer (UK)

"What I admire ... is Moss's ability to find an emotional connection with characters in the far distant past ... Eerie and gripping." - The Bookseller (UK)

"There is a spring-taut tension embedded in the pages ... Moss's brevity is admirable, her language pristine. This story lingers, leaving its own ghosts, but with important lessons for the future of idealising the past." - The Irish Times

"I stayed up half the night gulping down Sarah Moss's slim, unnervingly tense novel. Ghost Wall has subtlety, wit, and the force of a rock to the head: an instant classic." - Emma Donoghue, author of Room

"I love this book. Ghost Wall requires you to put your life on hold while you finish it. It draws you into its unusual world and, with quiet power and menace, keeps you there until the very last page. Silvie's story isn't one you will ever forget." - Maggie O'Farrell, author of I Am, I Am, I Am and The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

"This book ratcheted the breath out of me so skillfully that as soon as I'd finished, the only thing I wanted was to read it again." - Jessie Burton, author of The Miniaturist

"A novel as tightly woven as the baskets its heroine plaits, Ghost Wall is a startling and bloody blade of a book...it's a slender, scathing fable for today, made of the ingredients of the past thousand years." - Maria Dahvana Headley, author of The Mere Wife

"Ghost Wall grabs you by the guts and never lets go. Dazzling." - Elizabeth Day, author of The Party

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Author Information

Sarah Moss

Sarah Moss was educated at Oxford University and is a professor of creative writing at the University of Warwick. Her books include the novels Cold Earth, Night Waking, and Signs for Lost Children, and the memoir Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland.

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