The British writer Sarah Moss’s new novel, Ghost Wall... compresses large and urgent themes—the dangers of nostalgic nationalism, the abuse of women and children, what is lost and gained when humans stop living in thrall to the natural world—into a short, sharp tale of suspense ... I read Ghost Wall in one gulp in the middle of the night. It was a worthy match for 3 a.m. disquiet, a book that evoked existential dread, but contained it, beautifully, like a shipwreck in a bottle.
Moss expertly captures the hinterland of being an older teen who is not yet an adult, splicing Silvie’s encounters with shame, curiosity, desire and fear ... There is a spring-taut tension embedded in the pages, which is built up slowly by a number of means. Moss dispenses not just with speech indicators, but runs all the dialogue into regular sentences. It’s both breathless and indistinguishable from the other text ... The novel gradually narrows its focus, and the ending becomes a bottleneck from which character and reader feel they can’t escape ... Moss’s brevity is admirable, her language pristine. This story lingers, leaving its own ghosts, but with important lessons for the future of idealising the past.
... a compact, riveting book ... Moss immerses us in the pleasures of nascent sexuality and adolescent independence ... Moss is not much interested in giving Silvie and her rebellious tendencies room to breathe. This is a novel about being constrained, even trapped.
There are flesh-creeping moments, but Moss resists making [the father] a mere ogre of sadistic patriarchy ... It’s writing that, along with vivid responses to the natural world and acute alertness to class, regional and sexual tensions, recalls the early fiction of DH Lawrence. It brings enriching complexity to this tale of escalating menace.
Ghost Wall, a slim but meaty book, is like nothing I have read before; its creepy atmosphere has stayed with me all summer ... Moss combines exquisite nature writing, original characters and a cracking thriller plot to make a wonderful literary curiosity. It deserves to pull her out of the bog of underappreciation and on to the prize podiums.
In just under 150 pages, Moss covers complex terrain—domestic violence, class and gender inequality, and nationalism—with the focus and intensity of a portrait miniaturist ... this novel is a gear shift away from straight literary realism. It is also more strongly plot-driven than Moss' earlier novels. While it hurtles towards a terrible conclusion, there is no hint of gaudiness in Moss' writing. It is taut, subtle and always in control ... Moss blurs the lines between past and present until finally, the creeping dread of the story crescendos towards an almost unbearable act. Ghost Wall examines power and consent. By drawing a parallel between Iron Age ritual sacrifice and present-day domestic violence, Moss eviscerates the societal permission given to men to exert control over women. In this devastating exploration of how we live, Moss has written a novel likely to move her from awards shortlists and into the literary spotlight.
... [a] tiny, sharp knife of a novel ... acutely lovely ... In [Silvie], Moss, whose work has long plumbed the psychological roots of timely issues, offers a beautiful corrective to the rugged, wild-man archetype, and emphasizes the human cost of nostalgic nativism ... The novel probes the tension between cherishing something by letting it grow and change, and leaving it unchanging in the mud forever ... the whole book feel[s] like a web of shimmering connections, unshowy but endlessly complex.
Ghost Wall is captivating: tense, menacing, wild and heart-rending. Moss’ style is lovely and breathless, perfectly suited to Silvie’s first person narration. The tension builds slowly and steadily over the course of the story, which finishes up at just 130 pages. The climax is no less terrible for its predictability. Bill is a classic villain of a certain type, and Silvie’s mother is less developed than she would’ve been in a longer or more traditional novel. Molly is a wonderful character used by Moss to contrast Silvie and to highlight the hope and strength Silvie is discovering in herself. A compelling and unique coming-of-age tale, Ghost Wall is a chilling story that is beautifully written and unforgettable.
... short yet haunting ... [The story] becomes a pagan nightmare heading toward Heart of Darkness proportions ... Peppered with such exquisite lines... Ghost Wall isn't merely a timely topical novel, but rather a timeless work of art.
Sarah Moss possesses the rare light touch when it comes to melding the uncanny with social commentary ... Moss vividly renders the natural world here, coaxing readers into experiencing everything from stepping on a pebble in thin moccasins to being sucked into a bog ... Ghost Wall is such a weird and distinctive story: It could be labeled a supernatural tale, a coming-of-age chronicle, even a timely meditation on the various meanings of walls themselves. All this, packed into a beautifully written story of 130 pages. No wonder I read it twice within one week.
While imbued with Moss’s characteristic elegance, insight and deep sense of place, [Ghost Wall] packs a bigger punch than her other novels: at just 149 pages, it’s a short, sharp shock of a book that closes around you like a vice as you read it. Her earlier work considered the small dramas of daily lives in expansive, almost languorous detail. This story is tauter and tenser: plot driven, time limited and entirely out of the ordinary ... The real virtue of this novel resides in Moss’s ability to carry us with her: to lead us step by hot and grubby step to a shattering conclusion that in the reading feels not overblown or gratuitous but grotesquely plausible ... Ghost Wall is a burnished gem of a book, brief and brilliant, and with it Moss’s star is firmly in the ascendant.
The author of a lauded memoir about living in Iceland, Moss writes beautifully about the natural world, and she’s incisive when discussing the dynamics that emerge among strangers in close quarters. But this is more than just a story about a horrifying misadventure in the woods. Moss has written a feminist parable for an era in which an American president promises to build an insuperable wall and Brexit-supporting Brits are erecting barriers between their country and the rest of Europe. An unflinching depiction of tribalism and sexism, Ghost Wall is an intelligent work of fiction, one in which a character’s baleful misunderstanding of the past helps explain our fraught present.
At only 144 pages long, Ghost Wall is a slip of a book, powerful in its tightly controlled prose and multiple understated themes ... More broadly, and perhaps even more timely, Moss’s novel contains political undertones and motifs relevant to our nationalistic age of walls and border security.
The narration transitions so smoothly, in fact, that it can sometimes be hard to distinguish what is being said aloud and what are simply Silvie’s thoughts weaving themselves into the moment. Interestingly, perhaps because of the stream-of-consciousness style, the distinction doesn’t feel very important ... Ghost Wall is a short and cogent book highlighting the dynamics of one family through the lens of a rather bizarre and unsettling family trip. Bringing the distant past together with issues faced by women today—most of them rooted in history themselves—Moss’ novel asks readers to consider what we might stand to gain from history, and what we must leave behind.
Ghost Wall, Sarah Moss’s sixth novel, is further proof that she’s one of our very best contemporary novelists ... At a mere 160 pages, Ghost Wall may look unassuming, but it’s testament to Moss’s notable talents that within these she’s able to address the huge topics of misogynistic brutality and violence, gender inequality and class warfare, not to mention the lessons of history. But never at the expense of what’s a gripping narrative ... Ghost Wall is full of uncomfortable truths about the modern world ... It’s an intoxicating concoction; inventive, intelligent, and like no other author’s work.
... exquisite ... Ghost Wall, [Moss'] sixth in nine years, is her best novel yet, a slim book that can be read in an hour or two, but which leaves deep and lingering traces. At a time in which we are thinking more closely than ever about questions of nationalism and tradition, about walls and what they signify, this is an important novel that wears its timeliness lightly.
The story is exquisitely written; the characters are perfectly drawn and pop off the page into my head ... But what makes [the book] great is that Sarah Moss leads us onto the muddy, bloodstained road that Folk Horror normally follows, and then finds side paths and valleys and hills that take us in very different directions ... This, ultimately, is where Ghost Wall becomes a triumph. By committing to her early-90’s setting, and placing very real and tactile scenes of abuse against long digression on the landscape and the Bog People, Moss points out the ways that abusive patterns have been leveraged against women for most of Western Civilization ... To say much more would be too spoilery, but I will say that the book rewarded my initial discomfort by telling a deep and, in the end, riveting story.
Sarah Moss’s concise, claustrophobic sixth novel concerns the perils of family life ... Moss is very good at building empathy for Silvie through visceral, close-grained descriptions of nature ... A sinister feeling hangs over Ghost Wall from the first chapter, where we witness a teenage girl sacrificed to a bog by her family, probably on the same spot in Northumbria, many centuries ago.
... [a] subtly chilling new novel ... the brevity of Ghost Wall itself is deceptive about the novel’s scope. On one level a taut personal drama about a young girl and her abusive father, Ghost Wall is also a sharp political critique of the way distortions of the past ratify hatred and oppression in the present ... Though Ghost Wall is pointed and timely about the toxic effects of nativism, misogyny and xenophobia, its impact is dramatic, not didactic. Silvie’s narrating voice is at once engagingly frank and disconcertingly vulnerable: even as we relish the rebellious urges she mostly holds in check, we come to share her habitual dread of their consequences. By entangling us so closely with Silvie’s individual plight, Moss leads us deftly towards more radical insights; in hoping for Silvie’s liberation, we are also fighting back against insidious narratives that seem all too powerful in our own world today.
After a brief and terrifying prologue, you know there's nothing romantic about this encounter with the Iron Age. Instead, Moss has written a sharp, character-driven story about Silvie and her abusive father. He's a familiar figure in the age of Brexit and our 45th president. Resentful of immigrants and educated elites alike, he turns his rage on his own when the world doesn't behave to his liking. Ghost Wall goes deeper than newspaper- column analyses, though. In a haunting, frightening conclusion, Moss shows how prehistoric violence manifests in a modern age, and how some men thirst for dominance no matter the cost.
Ghost Wall, then, channels some of the malignant ideologies that threaten to derail the contemporary world’s sociopolitical advances. Though Moss’s book isn’t explicitly a Brexit novel in the vein of Jonathon Coe’s Middle England, it does confront, through allegory, the noxious mix of surging populism and nativism that animates the island’s current crisis ... Ghost Wall’s parabolic approach is a refreshing departure from the fashionable impulse in fiction to relegate political events to the status of inert objects ... At times, the artful ingenuity with which Moss engages the questions of history and politics doesn’t lend itself to in-depth characterization ... Mostly, though, the novel yields a powerful and satisfying indictment of Bill and the harmful bigotry he’s come to represent.
The story builds to a primitive ritual teasingly foreshadowed in the opening pages that lays bare Sylvie’s vulnerability and oppression at the hands of her father. Tackling issues such as misogyny and class divides, Moss... packs a lot into her brief but powerful narrative.
Moss’... unusual premise allows her to explore issues of class, sexuality, capitalism, and xenophobia in fewer than 150 pages. Her decision to use unformatted dialogue, without punctuation or paragraph breaks, can be frustrating and works against the plot’s natural suspense, but it also shows Silvie’s panic, confusion, and longing as strangers get too close. One can’t help but wonder if there is a post-Brexit cautionary tale flowing not too far below the surface here. A thorny, thoroughly original novel about human beings’ capacity for violence.
Moss... delivers a powerful and unsettling novel about an Iron Age reenactment that steadily morphs into something sinister ... The novel’s highlight is Silvie, a perfectly calibrated consciousness that is energetic and lonely and prone to sharp and memorable observations ... This is a haunting, astonishing novel.