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  • Writer's pictureP D Dawson

A Review - Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

Seventeen-year-old Silvie is to spend two weeks with her parents, living like ancient Britons in a reenactment of the Iron Age. Her father is a bus driver by day, but his interest in history has led him to share in the anthropology course alongside a professor and his students who are looking to fulfil their coursework. Not far from civilisation but away from the cities, they seek to live off nothing but the land. Because of her father's obsession, Silvie knows lots about foraging for food, even more, it seems, than the professor's students. She shows the students where to find bilberry's and burdock, while her mother stays at the camp, and her father and the professor go out hunting rabbits.

Silvie can do no right by her highly-strung father, and we learn he will strike her or her mother, for the tiniest error they make. Free-spirited Molly, one of the professor's students, believes in shedding her clothes, whether boys are around or not, and this encourages Silvie also to be less inhibited about her body. This leads to a severe chastisement by her father, as he discovers his daughter near the camp, very naked, and where the professor's male students might see her. He punishes his daughter with his leather belt, leaving Silvie very sore and scarred by the incident.

The story tackles misplaced prejudices, in regards to pure British heritage, a thing that doesn't exist, and then it also touches on psychological and mental abuse by a domineering husband and father. The father's attitudes and views on things are the catalysts that propel most of the book's conflict, and we see this play out in the way Silvie and her mother act around him. Her mother never leaves the camp, an unspoken rule, and Silvie is given little free reign and is always in fear of what will incite her father to his next moment of rage. Molly notices all of these things, and as the drama takes a drastic and rather disturbing twist towards the end, is it she who takes action as the story comes to a close.

I found Moss's prose delightfully free-flowing throughout and at times almost poetic, with sentences like - 'is she curled up in the peat with the dark water in her lungs and earth stopping her mouth, hands flung out in the final struggle or folded defeat.' Such imaginative phrasings and the language and knowledge regarding the Iron Age parts came across as authentic and thoroughly well researched. This is the first book I've read of hers, and if this is a standard throughout all her work, I can't wait to delve into her other offerings. What came across was the attention to detail in terms of the characterisation. For such a short story there was an impressive array of traits shown in the different roles within the story, and a genuine underlining fear throughout, that something sinister might happen, and at any time.

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