The Austin Chronicle

Ghost Wall

Sarah Moss' remarkable novella shows how one man's fascination with Iron Age Britain can manifest in the present in a terrifying way

Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, May 24, 2019, Arts

In recent years, neofascists have dug into ancient European history, using it to prop up their white supremacist propaganda. It's unsettling to watch for those of us who've always had an admittedly romantic fascination with the aesthetics of the period. You know: Celtic knots, Viking chants, and that funny blue body paint that ancient Britons supposedly wore into battle. It was all fun and games before – or that's how it seemed.

The narrator of Sarah Moss' remarkable novella Ghost Wall is Silvie, the teenage daughter of a working-class man obsessed with ancient British history. He drags his wife and daughter out to northern England for two weeks to join a history professor's project and live like Iron Age Britons. Silvie's father is especially preoccupied with human sacrifice – the kind the ancient Britons practiced, killing their victims and leaving them to be preserved for the ages in the nearby bogs.

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

by Sarah Moss
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 144 pp., $22

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