I’ve previously read and loved two books by Sarah Moss. Summerwater and The Fell were absolutely phenomenal and I’ve been wanting to check out more of her work. So, it was serendipitous when I stumbled across this audiobook on the library app. The fact that it was short enough to listen to during one work day only made it more appealing. Reader, I borrowed it.
It seems that everywhere I turn these days I stumble across somebody mourning the “good old days”. When the pandemic hit, the media constantly referenced the Blitz as a reason not to lockdown. It seems that a lot of people over the age of 45 are feeling a little nostalgic. But would any of them wish to go back to the Iron Age? It was a simpler time. You’d go out to find all your food, live in uncomfortable huts and sacrifice members of your tribe. Who wouldn’t want to go back?
In Ghost Wall, Silvie and her family are spending their Summer stepping back in time. They’re joining a professor and his students in reenacting life in an Iron Age settlement. Although, Silvie’s dad has been subjecting her to his passion for history all of her life. As Silvie bonds with the students, she starts to imagine a different way of life and getting away from her father. As he gets more carried away with the pretence, should Silvie be worried?
This is a pretty short book but it’s a masterclass of storytelling. There is so much tension but it builds so organically. It’s also broken up by lighter moments and more reflective moments. It’s the kind of fantastic writing that I’ve come to expect from Sarah Moss. Though it seems a little relaxed and slow, the story is kind of frenetic. There is always something happening and the narration makes it seem like things are moving. Silvie is a character who has a lot of thoughts to process so everything flips between topics quite abruptly. It’s the kind of style that I enjoy but I could see how it could come across as a little hectic.
The best way I can describe this is Get Out meets the Iron Age. It’s very interesting reading this book in 2022 considering what has happened in the UK recently. As we get deeper into Brexit, specific themes in this book are going to seem tame. Silvie’s dad is interested in British history but it’s made very clear that this isn’t an educational thing. It’s a flimsy front for that type of nationalism that is really just xenophobia. The kind of nostalgia that allows you to embrace your misogyny and desire for power. This book was relevant when it came out and it’s only getting more relevant as the years go by.
Similarly, the domestic abuse aspect of the book is also timely. During a time when there have been so many high-profile cases of male violence against women in the UK. It’s a horrible but realistic form of toxic masculinity. The abuse aspect of the book isn’t pleasant to read but Sarah Moss’ take on it was certainly different. I loved almost everything about this book. My only slight issue is with the ending. I understand why it played out the way it did but I think it could have been a little less hectic. It’s an abrupt ending, which I don’t mind. I just wish it had been a bit clearer. Although, it certainly didn’t ruin my enjoyment of this book.