Ghost Wall is a masterful piece of writing exploring family, sexuality and historyby Sian Norris / December 12, 2018 / Leave a comment
Ghost Wall follows the story of Silvie, a teenager spending the summer on the Northumbrian coast with her parents and a group of archaeology students. Her bus driver father’s obsessive fascination with Iron Age Britain has led to them to join an “experimental archaeology” project, where they recreate ancient life.
Sarah Moss’s descriptions of the harsh and beautiful landscape are intensely immersive. But despite the open moorlands and wide coastlines, nature is rarely friendly or neutral. It provides tools for survival, and it can be harmful, too.
The tense relationship between Silvie and her difficult father is central to the novel. Moss explores how the relationship encompasses both their bond forged on long country walks while Silvie was a child, and the violence that grows more and more threatening as the novel progresses. Her father’s desire for control is pervasive throughout; a reaction to the displacement and disempowerment he feels in modern, class-divided Britain.
Moss deftly examines the complexity of being a teenage girl. Silvie is stuck between her longing for adulthood and escape, and her loyalty to her family. She’s both curious about and scared by her own burgeoning sexuality—something highlighted through her friendship with and attraction to Molly, the only female student on the experiment.
Silvie is defensive of her working-class background, and is angry at the other students’ mockery of her family’s accent. Her father’s enthusiasm for the Iron Age slips into a longing for an imagined Britain free from foreigners. Meanwhile, the Iron Age setting gives the men in the camp an excuse to treat the three women as servants, even objects.
Reading Ghost Wall is an intense experience. Its claustrophobia and fearful build up leave you feeling close to tears. It is a masterful piece of writing that cements Moss’s reputation as one of our best novelists.
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (Granta, £12.99)