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Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

Ghost Wall

by Sarah Moss

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1942089,755 (3.87)49



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Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
Sylvie Hampton's father Bill rules his family with an iron fist and an ever-ready belt. Sylvie's mother is completely cowed; Sylvie avoids riling his anger.

Bill is obsessed with the Iron Age Britons and, especially the bog people sacrifices. When he is invited by an experiential archaeologist and some of his graduate students to take part in a two week reenactment, Bill jumps at the chance and takes his family along.
Although the graduate students take the reenactment less than seriously as they sneak into town for a beer or a shower, Bill insists his wife and daughter remain authentically in their support roles.

They forage for food, and create a ghost wall - a barrier with skulls along the top to act as a warning to other tribes.

As they chant and sing and drum, something seems to awaken within them and Bill wants to go to the next step, trying out some of the pre-sacrificial techniques he has read about and learned. And his daughter can't say no ….

I found this quite creepy with the suspense building up like the beating of a drum or a frightened heart. I gulped it all down in one sitting – good thing it was short! - as I couldn't bear to put it down before I learned the ending. ( )
  streamsong | Mar 24, 2019 |
Sarah Moss gives us a fascinating short novel with both coming-of-age and dark mystical qualities while also serving as a timely meditation on issues surrounding nativism. She uses the idea of walls to explore the latter: Do we confuse love (of people, country) with ownership? Does ownership require keeping things unchanged forever? Does preoccupation with ownership inevitably lead to pain for and constraint of others? Ancient walls (e.g., Hadrian’s, The Great Wall in China) and their modern counterparts (Berlin, Israel, US southern border) are metaphors for a myriad of passions surrounding safety, ownership, class, and ancestry. This novel questions the ultimate effectiveness of such structures at conserving these ideals.

Silvie Hampton is a 17-year-old working class girl who is spending time with her family in a re-enactment of bronze/iron age life in rural Northumbria. She has low self-esteem and confusion about her place in the world while being sensitive to her father’s physical abuse of her and her mother.

Silvie’s father, Bill, is an amateur expert on pre-Roman history. He harbors a disdain for the modern world and believes that the ancestors of the early Britons (of course Bill is one of these) are the privileged ones. All people who came later he considers to be interlopers. In essence, he is a racist with brutal tendencies.

Moss wonderfully captures the Northumbrian setting where a group of college students are participating in a course on experimental archeology lead by their professor. These kids serve to emphasize issues related to a privileged class vis a vis the workers as exemplified by Silvie and her family.

Moss cleverly weaves archeology with British ancient history to provide the reader with a tense, eerie but ultimately enlightening narrative about misogyny, gender bias, nativism, child abuse, and class in the modern world. Ultimately it asks whether mankind has truly evolved very far from its ancient roots. ( )
  ozzer | Mar 9, 2019 |
This book left a really bad taste. It was promoted as a story about a family that joins an archaeology class for a two week outing to "live like the ancient Britons". But the outing is really unnecessary to the primary focus: the terror Silvie and her mother experience around their abusive father/husband. The book is quite successful at depicting this. The mother is almost unable to function without direction, and both women are frequent targets for the father's rage and violence. Even Silvie, at age 17, still excuses his behavior, although she can't help pushing his buttons, so she's got a bit of spark in her still.

At any rate, I was really disappointed and put off at the story that emerged. The ending seemed highly unlikely and was very ugly, and I'm sorry I read it. The rating, such as it is, is for what is successful about the book, not for how much I appreciated it. ( )
  auntmarge64 | Mar 1, 2019 |
Great cover and the Audible book has a terrific reader. This book is so absolutely in my wheelhouse, and I did enjoy it. I love the brevity. But somehow the author sucked all the portent and mystery out and the subject—bog people and how Iron Age humans sacrificed their own in bogs that preserved them so they could be visited. Now you have to respect the author in that she doesn’t try to milk the creep factor of the Iron Age practices of stuffing heads and bodies of loved ones in the rafters, for example. Maybe it’s entirely admirable that the primal mysteries suggested by Iron Age practice and our immediate fascination with it are explained away for the most part as Patrirachal abuse and control. But the novel feels overdetermined, circumscribed, contrived. We get that the dad is an asshole. So nothing much seems to happen in the book. It’s all premise. No story. What does happen, their playacting at Iron Age practice, is just clumsy. Which could be fine because the book knows it’s dorky and that’s on the characters that they want it so badly. But structurally it reduces the bog people thread of the book to a huge anticlimax and then the real story is bad dad who finally gets in trouble. It’s YA. ( )
  wordlikeabell | Feb 27, 2019 |
Overall, I enjoyed this book, a little bit different and certainly an interesting subject matter. Here, in the United States, most everyone is familiar with Civil War re-enactments but apparently, re-enacting ancient civilization in Britain is a thing. The reader is introduced to it in this novella which suggests that dark doesn't only belong to the dark ages. Modern civilization contains its secrets just as the ancients had theirs.
Silvie's father is one such enthusiast, self taught and eager to participate with a college professor and his students on a two week field trip, bringing along his daughter and wife to do the dirty work. He wishes to make the trip as authentic as possible and is sometimes restrained by the Professor. He has an ugly disposition which, sometimes, makes for a difficult read. Most readers will be satisfied with the conclusion.
The author has chosen to forego quotation marks, sometimes dialog runs together with narrative which gives the story a disconcerting and uneasy feel, maybe foreshadowing what is to come. ( )
  Carmenere | Feb 22, 2019 |
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