Sarah Moss has done it again, in that she has got us thinking about being female but this time in a very different capacity from the way she does in Bodies of Light or Signs for Lost Children. This time her protagonist is in the north of England, far from the hustle and bustle of large cities but not far from civilisation. Silvie and her family are living as if they are ancient Britons, surviving by the tools and knowledge of the Iron Age.
In Ghost Wall, Silvie and her dad join an anthropology course, whilst her father has the time off from work. 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 dream of his. Raising Silvie on stories of early man, taken her to witness rare artifacts, this is precisely the kind of living that he has in mind. From mixing with the students, Silvie begins to hear, and imagine an alternative kind of life, one that might include going to university, travelling and speaking her mind.
A Ghost Wall was used in ancient times to ward off enemy invaders, barricades of stakes topped with skulls, insidious to say the least. When the group builds one of their own, they realise a spiritual connection. This mythic story explores the journey we have come from the minds of Ancient Britons as the question of human sacrifice is considered.
The pastoral story is often forgotten amidst the abuse, but is by no means less sinister, as it is within this that the rest follows. that follows belies how dark and deep the themes of this novel truly are. A timely novella, which considers Britishness in the ancient times and what it really means amongst the purists this could perhaps be an allegory for our times of the far right in society becoming more apparent, emerging during these present times.
A well-written publication, it is possible to get consumed by this in the course of an afternoon, as there is a clear commentary here on people that get drawn by the ancient times and our ancestors. Drawing similarities and highlighting the differences between where we are now and where we have come from, there is a line of criticism within this text, which makes it worth reading.
Although it ends disappointingly and the story does not entirely pull me in, the novella is worth the read, it’s the criticism and characters that make it entirely worthwhile. The only downside is that the ending was a little weak for me.
Ghost Wall is available now, published by Granta Books.