Sylvie’s dad is obsessed with the past. She’s been forced to spend her summer in a recreation of an Iron Age settlement, wearing scratchy tunics, peeing in the woods and eating meagre rations found in the hedgerows.
Ghost Wall has a slow build tension, as it becomes clear that Sylvie’s dad is abusive, controlling every aspect of his wife and child’s lives. The camp is being run by a professor, with students who don’t take things too seriously, a sore point with her dad. It doesn’t take much to set him off and it isn’t the students who are the focus of his wrath. I feel like Sarah Moss set out to write a father that was the opposite of Adam in The Tidal Zone.
It’s told from the perspective of Sylvie, who makes excuses for her dad. I think deep down she knows what he does is wrong, but she doesn’t know any other world. She takes a shine to Molly, one of the students who is confident and carefree. Molly can see through Sylvie’s excuses, but what can you do when help is refused?
Cranes reared above us like ceremonial pillars of a lost civilisation, intricate with rust and disintegration.
This all takes place against a backdrop of faux survivalism. As the group try and live the life of ancient Britons, you see how useless modern day humans would be if they really needed to live like that. Has modern farming made things harder?
I enjoyed the parts about what we think life would have been like back then. The professor is academic enough to make it clear we don’t know things for certain. Sylvie’s dad is quite interested in the bog people, those sacrificed to the peat. The book opens with a scene of from the distant past of a girl being sacrificed, perhaps the one who now resides in a Manchester museum.
Mum often spoke of sitting down as a goal, a prize she might win by hard work, but so rarely achieved that the appeal remained unclear to me.
It also touches on class and what it means to be British. Sylvie’s dad is not too keen on thinking about his ancestors coming from all over the place, but Britons didn’t just appear on this island. The students are from the south and Sylvie’s family from the north. At times she feels like the students are mocking them, she wants to defend her family even if they are far from perfect.
I did see the end coming, it seemed a logical conclusion, even if I do wonder why certain people went along with it. My heart was in my mouth, although it did end a bit too suddenly. I think open endings are very much a thing Sarah Moss does.
Ghost Wall is published by Granta Books and will be available in hardback from 20th September 2018. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.
POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 4A. A book tied to your ancestry
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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.
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