A Southern Living Best New Book of Winter 2019; A Refinery29 Best Book of January 2019; A Most Anticipated Book of 2019 at The Week, Huffington Post, Nylon, and Lit Hub; An Indie Next Pick for January 2019
“Ghost Wall has subtlety, wit, and the force of a rock to the head: an instant classic.”
—Emma Donoghue, author of Room
"A worthy match for 3 a.m. disquiet, a book that evoked existential dread, but contained it, beautifully, like a shipwreck in a bottle.”
—Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker
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.
Moss (Cold Earth) delivers a powerful and unsettling novel about an Iron Age reenactment that steadily morphs into something sinister. The narrator, 17-year-old Silvie, is forced by her domineering father, a history buff, to join a group of three college students Pete, Dan, and Molly and their experimental archaeology professor for a stay on a relatively isolated spot of land in the English countryside to gain insight into what it was like to live day-to-day in the Iron Age. Silvie wears a scratchy tunic and searches for edible berries and roots, becoming close with Molly. Quickly, though, Silvie's dad's darker side comes to the forefront, as he becomes obsessed with following the rules of the experiment; he is particularly captivated by people who were found in the bogs of the region with their hands tied or bearing wounds, perfectly preserved from the Iron Age and discovered centuries later. The story grows increasingly ominous as the men build a replica of a ghost wall a wall topped with skulls that a local tribe erected to ward off the invading Romans before arriving at a terrifying, unforgettable ending. The novel's highlight is Silvie, a perfectly calibrated consciousness that is energetic and lonely and prone to sharp and memorable observations: "Who are the ghosts again, we or our dead? Maybe they imagined us first, maybe we were conjured out of the deep past by other minds"; "You'd think that dismembering something would get easier as the creature becomes less like itself, but with rabbits that's not the case." This is a haunting, astonishing novel.