Ghost Wall (Granta Books 2018) is a slim novella of breathtaking simplicity and beauty by Sarah Moss. Set over a couple of days in the heather-clad moors of Northumberland, this is a story about adolescent Silvie and her parents who are living in a hut and practising the Iron-Age lifestyle with a group of experimental archaeology students and their professor.
Dressed in rough tunics and handmade moccasins, foraging for wild greens and hunting rabbits, the ragtag group is led by Silvie’s father, a strict disciplinarian who is obsessed with researching, imagining, reproducing and enacting the harsh quality of life from thousands of years earlier. Silvie learns more about the bog girl, a young woman sacrificed in an elaborate ritual, and the people and objects buried in the bog beneath their feet, and as the environment reveals its violence and its secret history, as the college excursion creeps closer and closer towards a shocking climax, Silvie feels threatened by those around her, and fearful of what may occur beyond her control.
This book is a literary gem. In style, prose and voice, it reminded me very much of Carrie Tiffany’s Exploded View, which also features a vulnerable and powerless girl trapped in dire circumstances. With a hint also of Lord of the Flies, this novel is gripping and haunting.