REVIEW: Ghost Wall, Sarah Moss

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Teenage Silvie is living in a remote Northumberland camp as an exercise in experimental archaeology. Her father is an abusive man, obsessed with recreating the discomfort, brutality and harshness of Iron Age life. Behind and ahead of Silvie's narrative is the story of a bog girl, a sacrifice, a woman killed by those closest to her, and as the hot summer builds to a terrifying climax, Silvie and the Bog girl are in ever more terrifying proximity. 

Ghost Wall is an intense and masterful novel about the harrowing realities of a family affected by domestic violence and the lengths that people go to justify their behaviour; with Sarah Moss primarily focussing on the father’s use of early English notions of masculinity and gender dynamics to legitimise violent and oppressive behaviour. As the novel progresses, Ghost Wall begins to almost feel like the Stanford Prison Experiment in which the professor and, to a certain extent, the male students, are taken in by the warped ideology of Silvie’s father and how he believes males in the Iron Age would have behaved. It shows the realities of mob mentality; how people are better able to justify crueler and crueler acts if they are in midst of a group acting in the same way and the difficulty in standing against them. One character, Molly, points out at one point that their behaviour gradually descends into something that is very cult-like and honestly, I would never be able to describe it more accurately than that.
A ray of light in the growing darkness of Ghost Wall is Silvie’s strength, in the fact that she gradually begins to question the antiquated justifications for her father’s violent and cruel behaviour; to increasingly go against his wishes in small acts of resistance and defiance; and her growing feelings (romantic or otherwise) for Molly. It makes me have hope for her future and her growth beyond the short time that we get to spend with her.
All of this adds up to Ghost Wall cementing its place as one of my favourite novels of the year, and Sarah Moss being an author that I cannot wait to read more from. For such a short book, it has a truly enormous emotional weight and one that will weigh on me for a long time to come.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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