Cover image for Ghost wall / Sarah Moss.
Ghost wall / Sarah Moss.
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019.
Physical Description:
132 pages : illustrations ; 20 cm

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A Southern Living Best New Book of Winter 2019; A Refinery29 Best Book of January 2019; A Most Anticipated Book of 2019 at The Week, Huffington Post, Nylon, and Lit Hub ; An Indie Next Pick for January 2019

" Ghost Wall has subtlety, wit, and the force of a rock to the head: an instant classic."
--Emma Donoghue, author of Room

"A worthy match for 3 a.m. disquiet, a book that evoked existential dread, but contained it, beautifully, like a shipwreck in a bottle."
--Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker

A taut, gripping tale of a young woman and an Iron Age reenactment trip that unearths frightening behavior

The light blinds you; there's a lot you miss by gathering at the fireside.

In the north of England, far from the intrusions of cities but not far from civilization, Silvie and her family are living as if they are ancient Britons, surviving by the tools and knowledge of the Iron Age.

For two weeks, the length of her father's vacation, they join an anthropology course set to reenact life in simpler times. 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 obsession. He has raised her on stories of early man, taken her to witness rare artifacts, recounted time and again their rituals and beliefs--particularly their sacrifices tothe bog. Mixing with the students, Silvie begins to see, hear, and imagine another kind of life, one that might include going to university, traveling beyond England, choosing her own clothes and food, speaking her mind.

The ancient Britons built ghost walls to ward off enemy invaders, rude barricades of stakes topped with ancestral skulls. When the group builds one of their own, they find a spiritual connection to the past. What comes next but human sacrifice?

A story at once mythic and strikingly timely, Sarah Moss's Ghost Wall urges us to wonder how far we have come from the "primitive minds" of our ancestors.

Author Notes

Sarah Moss was educated at Oxford University and is a professor of creative writing at the University of Warwick. Her books include the novels Cold Earth , Night Waking , and Signs for Lost Children ,and the memoir Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Moss (Cold Earth) delivers a powerful and unsettling novel about an Iron Age reenactment that steadily morphs into something sinister. The narrator, 17-year-old Silvie, is forced by her domineering father, a history buff, to join a group of three college students-Pete, Dan, and Molly-and their experimental archaeology professor for a stay on a relatively isolated spot of land in the English countryside to gain insight into what it was like to live day-to-day in the Iron Age. Silvie wears a scratchy tunic and searches for edible berries and roots, becoming close with Molly. Quickly, though, Silvie's dad's darker side comes to the forefront, as he becomes obsessed with following the rules of the experiment; he is particularly captivated by people who were found in the bogs of the region with their hands tied or bearing wounds, perfectly preserved from the Iron Age and discovered centuries later. The story grows increasingly ominous as the men build a replica of a ghost wall-a wall topped with skulls that a local tribe erected to ward off the invading Romans-before arriving at a terrifying, unforgettable ending. The novel's highlight is Silvie, a perfectly calibrated consciousness that is energetic and lonely and prone to sharp and memorable observations: "Who are the ghosts again, we or our dead? Maybe they imagined us first, maybe we were conjured out of the deep past by other minds"; "You'd think that dismembering something would get easier as the creature becomes less like itself, but with rabbits that's not the case." This is a haunting, astonishing novel. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

New York Review of Books Review

SUGAR RUN, by Mesha Maren. (Algonquin, $26.95.) An ex-convict returns to her Appalachian roots in this debut novel. The literary lineages here are hard-boiled fiction and film noir - but by exploring place, connection and redemption in the face of the justice system, Maren creates bold takes on those venerable genres. ANNE FRANK'S DIARY: The Graphic Adaptation, adapted by Ari Folman. Illustrated by David Polonsky. (Pantheon, $24.95.) By turning the famous diary of a girl hiding from the Nazis into a graphic novel, Folman and Polonsky bring out its wit and humor in whimsical illustrations capturing Anne's rich imaginative life. REVOLUTION SUNDAY, by Wendy Guerra. Translated by Achy Obejas. (Melville House, paper, $16.99.) This Cuban novel, about a poet facing political and personal questions amid the loosening grip of socialism, plays with expectations; as often as Guerra gives a concrete description of Havana, she gives one that dances and evades. GHOST WALL, by Sarah Moss. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $22.) This compact, riveting novel, about a 17-year-old working-class girl forced by her parents to join a re-enactment of Iron Age Britain, asks us to question our complicity in violence, particularly against women. MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER, by Oyinkan Braithwaite. (Doubleday, $22.95.) Murders litter this debut novel by a young Nigerian writer, but the book is less about crime than about the complexities of sibling bonds, as well as the way two sisters manage to survive in a corrupt city that suffocates women at every turn. THE BREAKTHROUGH: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer, by Charles Graeber. (Twelve, $28.) Training the body's immune system to fight disease now offers the most promising developments in the effort to battle cancer. Graeber recounts the treatment's 19th-century origins and provides a panoramic view of the work being done today to make it effective. TODDLER-HUNTING: And Other Stories, by Taeko Kono. Translated by Lucy North, with an additional translation by Lucy Lower. (New Directions, paper, $16.95.) As nonchalantly as some authors might describe a character's hair, Kono details her characters' taboo desires. First published in the '60s, these stories all retain interest. WE ARE DISPLACED: My Journey and Stories From Refugee Girls Around the World, by Malala Yousafzai. (Little, Brown, $18.99; ages 12 and up.) The world's youngest Nobel laureate gathers stirring stories of displacement from nine other girls. A THOUSAND SISTERS: The Heroic Airwomen of the Soviet Union in World War II, by Elizabeth Wein. (Balzer + Bray, $19.99; ages 13 and up.) The powerful tale of the all-female Soviet air regiments who flew 24,000 missions to help defeat the Nazis. The full reviews of these and other recent books are on the web:

Library Journal Review

In this latest from the acclaimed Moss (e.g., Night Waking), teenage Silvie from northern England is stuck in a family camping vacation from hell. Her domineering, amateur-historian father has brought her and her mother on a historical reenactment of Iron Age hunter-gatherers near the Scottish border in connection with a university archaeology class field trip. Aside from enduring his physical abuse, Silvie and her mother are burdened with foraging, cooking, and keeping the fire; domestic violence and gender roles are as old as time, after all. While the university professor and Silvie's dad ponder the mysteries of primitive female sacrifice among the ancient bog people, Silvie has firsthand knowledge of torture and scapegoating. As with much Brexit-era British fiction, the novel touches on issues of class and immigration. The posh professor and students are juxtaposed with Silvie's working-class family, and while Silvie's father seeks a historical justification for a pure Britain, an inconvenient fact is that the ancient world had its migrations, too. -VERDICT This novella-length story is thought provoking on multiple levels, with insights into -primitive and modern societies, and coming of age in the face of family violence. [See Prepub Alert, 7/16/18.]-Reba Leiding, -emeritus, James Madison Univ. Lib., Harrisonburg, VA © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.