Summary and book 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
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jan 2019, 144 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 31, 2019, 144 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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About this Book

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.


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 ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

A suspenseful, literary coming-of-age novel set in rural Northumberland, England, Ghost Wall tackles potent themes of feminine power, rage and resistance, toxic masculinity, and survival. Sarah Moss has created a cinematic jewel of fiction, sure to spark conversation for its literary beauty as well as potent themes...continued

Full Review Members Only (887 words).

(Reviewed by Karen Lewis).

Media Reviews

Evening Standard (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.

The Scotsman (UK)
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 Daily Telegraph (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.

The Observer (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 Times (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 Independent (UK)
[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 Observer (UK)
Stunningly good, a tightly written, powerful book about archaeology and Englishness.

The Spectator, "Books of the Year"
[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 Mail on Sunday (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 Bookseller (UK)
What I admire ... is Moss's ability to find an emotional connection with characters in the far distant past ... Eerie and gripping.

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

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

Publishers Weekly
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.

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

The Irish Times
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.

Author Blurb Emma Donoghue, author of Room
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.

Author Blurb Maggie O'Farrell, author of I Am, I Am, I Am and The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox
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.

Author Blurb Jessie Burton, author of The Miniaturist
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.

Author Blurb Maria Dahvana Headley, author of The Mere Wife
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.

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

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Hadrian's Wall: Remains of Fallen Empire

Section of Hadrian's Wall featuring the remains of Castle NickSarah Moss' novel Ghost Wall is set in Northumberland, Britain where Emperor Hadrian (AD 76-138) ordered his troops to build a wall about AD 122 when the region was under Roman rule. It's estimated that the wall was built over a six year span by at least 15,000 men. Excavations reveal that many sections of the wall were originally ditches and mounds of turf, later fortified with cut stone blocks. During its construction and occupation, the wall was maintained and patrolled by legions of Roman foot soldiers, horsemen, conscripts from other conquered lands, and their families. In that era, the Roman Empire stretched from present-day Iraq across Europe and Northern Africa. Under the rule of Julius Caesar, Romans explored Britannia in 55 BC, ...

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