By Sarah Moss
Ghost Wall follows teenager Silvie and her parents at an Iron Age re-enactment, an exercise in ‘experimental archaeology’, in the remote north of England. Beside academics and intellectuals, Silvie’s working class father is considered simply a passionate amateur, but it is his obsession with Britain’s pre-history that gives the camp an authentic air of menace, and risks endangering both the re-enactment and Silvie herself.
Ghost Wall is a characteristically intelligent account of an impossibly complicated relationship: between daughter and abusive father, between man and forgotten nation, between Silvie and the remains of another teenage girl, an ancient body sacrificed to the bog. Her father’s search for his own history beyond the realms of reason, or even self-preservation, is, in classic Moss form, both subtle and devastating – and the allusions to Brexit smart and poignant. But this is not the father’s story, rather it is Silvie’s: against the background of class war and toxic male behaviour is an undercurrent of female solidarity and survival.
Moss is the author of five acclaimed novels but in this short volume has, I believe, produced her best fiction to date. Ghost Wall asks: can Silvie’s father put the present – his family – ahead of the past he feels defines him? Or will the future – his daughter – bear the scars?
Words: Philip Connor Finn