cover image Ghost Wall

Ghost Wall

Sarah Moss. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $22 (144p) ISBN 978-0-374-16192-7

Moss (Cold Earth) delivers a powerful and unsettling novel about an Iron Age reenactment that steadily morphs into something sinister. The narrator, 17-year-old Silvie, is forced by her domineering father, a history buff, to join a group of three college students—Pete, Dan, and Molly—and their experimental archaeology professor for a stay on a relatively isolated spot of land in the English countryside to gain insight into what it was like to live day-to-day in the Iron Age. Silvie wears a scratchy tunic and searches for edible berries and roots, becoming close with Molly. Quickly, though, Silvie’s dad’s darker side comes to the forefront, as he becomes obsessed with following the rules of the experiment; he is particularly captivated by people who were found in the bogs of the region with their hands tied or bearing wounds, perfectly preserved from the Iron Age and discovered centuries later. The story grows increasingly ominous as the men build a replica of a ghost wall—a wall topped with skulls that a local tribe erected to ward off the invading Romans—before arriving at a terrifying, unforgettable ending. The novel’s highlight is Silvie, a perfectly calibrated consciousness that is energetic and lonely and prone to sharp and memorable observations: “Who are the ghosts again, we or our dead? Maybe they imagined us first, maybe we were conjured out of the deep past by other minds”; “You’d think that dismembering something would get easier as the creature becomes less like itself, but with rabbits that’s not the case.” This is a haunting, astonishing novel. (Jan.)