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Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss - Review

Monday, October 25, 2021

Ghost Wall was my choice for our book club for this year. When I was trying to choose a book I asked my friend Laura for recommendations and she said this as I wanted something a bit gothic. I hadn't realised until my copy arrived that this is a novella, it's really short. That's good for book club as it means more people manage to finish it! I only bought Summerwater by Sarah Moss because I knew I would be reading this soon, and now I've read two of hers I can say that I really like her style. It's concise and to the point, which I appreciate! 

So in this book, seven people are in Northumberland reenacting the Iron Age lives of people who lived nearby. Sylvie is there with her parents; she's around fifteen and named after an ancient goddess, Sulevia. Her dad is a bus driver and her mum is a cashier in a supermarket. Her dad is abusive; there are bruises on Mum, and he beats Sylvie pretty severely with a leather belt after finding her bathing naked in the stream. This is not a one off occurrence and she is really quite frightened of him, trying her best to not set him off and wishing everyone else wouldn't make him angry. 

The others on camp are a professor, Jim, and three of his students; Dan, Pete, and Molly. They are archaeology students or similar, and are doing the reenactment in their summer holidays. It's not explained how Jim and Sylvie's dad know each other or exactly why Sylvie and her family are there, except that her dad is an enthusiast about the time period. He insists the fire isn't allowed to go out, and while the professor and the students sleep in modern tents, Sylvie and her parents sleep in an authentic hut on uncomfortable beds. Everyone also has to wear linen tunics and moccasins. 

The girls are mostly sent off foraging for food. One day all the young people go to the sea and swim, and Sylvie finds herself watching Molly swim naked. This is partly why she strips off to bathe later in the sream. The men set traps for rabbits and later have to skin them for a stew. Food is scarce, though.

Sylvie knows a lot about the countryside because she often goes hiking with her dad and has picked things up from him. She also knows how obsessed he is with the bogs and bog people - people who were sacrificed to the bogs by their communities. Their relationship deteriorates, and Sylvie finds herself fighting for her life. 

I liked the book a lot - it's set in a heatwave and I liked how gothic the searing sunshine was and how it added to the stress of the book. I liked Sylvie and wanted her to succeed. I'm giving this five out of five and definitely definitely will read something else by Sarah Moss!

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