Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss, review by Shelly Walston
Sarah Moss's sparse novel Ghost Wall is the story of Silvie - short for Sulevia, an ancient British goddess - her soft-spoken mother, and her Iron Age-loving father. The three inhabit the northern ends of Britain, Northumberland, and Silvie's father, a truck driver, volunteers them to partake in an Experiential Archaeological study conducted by a local professor during his two-week vacation.
The two weeks swelter. Not only do the hardships of wearing a burlap tunic, sleeping in a hut, foraging for food, and keeping the men sated after their "hunts," keep Silvie, her mother, and Molly - one of the students - preoccupied, but so also does the growing tension between reenactment and obsession with accuracy and brutality. Silvie is no stranger to the far-reaches, however. Her father regularly took her for "winter walks" through the bogs as a child (once – she recalls – she was almost sucked in), and during each ramble he forces lesson after lesson upon her. She knows which roots are safe to eat, how to skin and joint a rabbit, as well as how to behave so as not to upset his demand for respect of the past.
As the novel continues, the reader begins to see the thin line Silvie walks - teetering just like she does when she walks through the bog: one missed step and the punishment for inattentiveness threatens to consume her and those who “play act” in her father’s all too-real experiment. When the novel reaches its climax, the line becomes blurred – for Silvie, the professor, his students, and certainly for her father. At what point do reenactments force us to commune with the spirits of those who lived 2,000 years ago? And at what point do we let that overcome our own sense of self, security, and even our sense of sanity?