Sarah Moss is an author I have heard great things about in recent months and when I heard the premise of her latest novel, Ghost Wall, I decided it was time to finally discover her writing. Here we meet a seventeen year old girl, and see what happens one summer when her life becomes entangled with the sinister events of the past…
From the opening pages of this story I quickly became immersed in this chilling tale, as it describes the death of a young bog girl who is sacrificed in a disturbing ritual. This immediately created an unnerving atmosphere, and the tension continues throughout as I found myself fearing for Silvie, a teenager whose life in the present day is haunted somewhat by the fate of the bog girl. Whilst this is set in the modern day, Silvie and her family are currently living a more primitive existence. Silvie’s controlling father, an unsettling figure throughout, is fanatical about history, and obsessed with recreating what life may have been like in the Iron Age. This fascination has meant that Silvie and her family have been brought along for the ride, living in a hut in Northumberland as part of an archaeology expedition. As events build to a harrowing climax, we see how Silvie struggles to adapt to this life, the challenges that she is presented with from the harsh landscape, and from her difficult relationship with her father.
At around 150 pages in length, Ghost Wall is a relatively short novel, but there is a lot to take in within its pages, and there didn’t seem to be a word out of place. Moss has such an excellent command of language here, which provides a vivid portrayal of the landscape, and the story of a young girl who is struggling to navigate it. I enjoyed the contrast that was shown when looking at Iron Age life, between the beauty and simplicity of nature, but also the harshness, and the violence it can create. This is particularly crucial where it concerns Silvie’s father, and the way this way of life impacts his own behaviour towards his family, which adds to the story’s tension. And then of course there is the fate of the bog girl, and the chilling sense of foreboding that lingers, as what starts out as a re-enactment threatens to become something all too real.
Ghost Wall is a well written and atmospheric novel which grabbed my attention from the opening pages and didn’t let go. It is a story of the past and the present, and of love and violence, and the way events from the past can haunt the living.