Excerpt from Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Ghost Wall

A Novel

by Sarah Moss

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss X
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
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  • Published:
    Jan 2019, 144 pages

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Karen Lewis
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Excerpt
Ghost Wall

THEY BRING HER OUT. Not blindfolded, but eyes widened to the last sky, the last light. The last cold bites her fingers and her face, the stones bruise her bare feet. There will be more stones, before the end.

She stumbles. They hold her up. No need to be rough, everyone knows what is coming. From deep inside her body, from the cord in her spine and the wide blood-ways under the ribs, from the emptiness of her womb and the rising of her chest, she shakes. A body in fear. They lead the fearful body over the turf and along the track, her bare feet numb to most of the pain of rock and sharp rushes. Chanting rises, the drums sound slow, unsyncopated with the last panic of her heart. Others follow, wrapped against the cold, dark figures processing into the dusk.

On arrival, they strip her. It is easy; they have put her into a loose tunic. Against the low red light of the winter sunset, her body is white as chalk, solid against the wisps of fog and the tracery of reed. She tries to cover herself with her hands, and is not allowed. One holds her while the other binds her. Her breathing is accelerating, its condensation settling on her face. Exhaled breaths hang like spirits above each person's head, slowly dissolving into the air. The men turn her to face the crowd, they display her to her neighbours and her family, to the people who held her hands as she learnt to walk, taught her to dip her bread in the pot and wipe her lips, to weave a basket and gut a fish. She has played with the children who now peep at her from behind their mothers, has murmured prayers for them as they were being born. She has been one of them, ordinary. Her brother and sisters watch her flinch as the men take the blade, lift the pale hair on the left side of her head and cut it away. They scrape the skin bare. She doesn't look like one of them now. She shakes. They tuck the hair into the rope around her wrists.

She is whimpering, keening. The sound echoes across the marsh, sings through the bare branches of rowan and birch.

There are no surprises.

They place another rope around her neck, hold the knife up to the setting sun as it edges behind the rocks. What is necessary is on hand, the sharpened willow withies, the pile of stones, the small blades and the large. The stick for twisting the rope.

Not yet. There is an art to holding her in the place she is entering now, on the edge of the water-earth, in the time and space between life and death, too late to return to the living and not time, not yet, not for a while, to be quite dead.


DARKNESS WAS A LONG TIME coming. The fire crackled, transparent against the trees, its purpose no more, no less, than ceremonial. We had been pushed away from each other by the heat that no one wanted. Woodsmoke stung my eyes and the rock dug into my backside, the rough tunic itchy under my thighs. I slipped my foot out of its moccasin and pointed my toes towards the fire for no reason, to see how it felt. You can't be cold, my father said, though it was he who had lit the fire and insisted that we gather around it. I can, I thought, if I've a mind, but I said, no, Dad, I'm not cold. Through the flames, I could see the boys, talking to each other and drawn back almost into the trees as if they were thinking of melting into the woods and creeping off somewhere to do some boys' thing at which I would probably be more skilled. My mother sat on the stone where my father had told her to sit, tunic rucked unbecomingly above her fat white knees, staring into the flames as people do; it was boring and my father was holding us all there, bored, by force of will. Where do you think you're going, he said as I stood up. I need, I said, to pee, and he grunted and glanced towards the boys, as if the very mention of biological functions might incite their adolescent passions. Just make sure you go out of sight, he said.

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Excerpted from Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss. Copyright © 2019 by Sarah Moss. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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