Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

Ghost Wall is a subtle and unnerving novel about a girl forced into a summer of experimental archeology by her abusive father. Sylvie is seventeen and is spending her summer at a recreated Iron Age camp in Northumbria, as her father—who is obsessed with recreating the hardship of Iron Age life—works with an archeology professor and some students to live like people might have in the past. Sylvie and her mother live in the shadow of her father and his anger and rules, but in the heat of the summer and the bare landscape near Hadrian’s Wall, his beliefs might be turned into something else, something inspired by the bog girls who were forced into sacrifice many years ago.

This is a short novel that creates a strange and tense atmosphere through description and detail. Sylvie’s life is depicted through her perspective of the events at the camp and how she knows about foraging and survival, in contrast to the three students who are on the trip. Moss weaves in tensions around misogyny and class to the narrative, which is centred around abuse by those closest to you. At the same time, it is about Sylvie being aware that there is more to life that what her father is trying to force her to be, hints of coming of age with the backdrop of an unusual and difficult childhood.

Ghost Wall is a compact novel that tells a small story featuring a small cast of characters staying in a camp in the wilderness. It also spans many hundreds of years, telling a story of force and coercion that hasn’t changed much. Its structure—short and descriptive with a sudden conclusion—might not appeal to everyone, but this is one for people who are interested in trying to know the past, but also depict a more modern day experience in fiction.