When I was young my father had a subscription to National Geographic Magazine and kept his copies year after year. No longer would all of them fit in the house, so older copies went into shelves in the storeroom. I'd sit for hours looking through them, mostly interested in the articles and photos about ancient history and archaeology. The iron age bog bodies have continued to fascinate me.
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss opens with a scene of a young woman being prepared as a sacrifice or for an execution. The details echo those of the 16 year old Yde girl and the Windeby girl.
Then we are introduced to the current situation in which seventeen-year-old Silvie and her parents are participating in an iron age reenactment along with a university professor and his students.
Set in Northumberland in the 1990's, the descriptions of the small camp, forest, and countryside do create a feeling of an earlier time. However, the group is not far from civilization, and Molly, one of the students, makes clandestine use of a near by convenience store.
Moss creates the feeling of isolation and repression immediately in taut descriptions that involve more than the physical setting. Professor Slade is pretty easy-going, but Silvie's father Bill is not, and it is clear that he would like his dictatorial and controlling views to be accepted by more than his wife and daughter.
Physically and emotionally abusive, the father tries to keep a wall around his family and particularly around Silvie. If the others are aware, only Molly seems concerned. Retreating to the past is, for the students, an exercise for credit, but for Bill it carries much more weight. Silvie and her mother are only there because of Bill.
Ghost Wall is actually a novella, but it didn't feel like one because of its density--packing so much in so few pages. There are numerous themes, each handled in an understated manner that seeps into your consciousness. I was both pleased and frustrated by the conclusion which was a little rushed, and I was curious about some of the outcomes, wanting to know more.
There are walls aplenty--physical, mental, social, and metaphysical--and plenty to think about in this short book.
NetGalley/Farrar, Straus & Giroux
General Fiction/Coming of Age. Jan. 8, 2018. Print length: 144 pages.