Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss.
Granta Books, 2019 (2018).
A vivid image comes to me: a rudimentary fence of thin branches stripped of leaves, two or three sheep skulls perched atop uprights. It’s the 70s, on a Welsh hillside, and the kids – this is a family holiday after all, though some of us adults are excavating an early medieval site – have, unconsciously imitating The Lord of the Flies, fashioned their ramshackle barrier to keep us out of their den.
This memory emerged like a body exhumed from a peat bog as I read Sarah Moss’s novella. Set in the late 80s or early 90s after the fall of the Berlin Wall Ghost Wall describes a poorly organised experimental archaeology summer school in Northumberland where a professor and three students are joined by Silvie, her cowed mother and her bus driver husband who fancies himself an expert in Iron Age prehistory.
But the opening pages take us back a couple of thousand or so years, when a community is about to ritually kill a young woman and then pin her down in a bog. Details echo what came to light when Lindow Woman was discovered in Cheshire, and of Danish bog bodies such as Haraldskær Woman and Huldremose Woman. How may this relate to Silvie as the modern group attempt to re-enact prehistoric life on an upland Northumbrian moss near the North Sea coast?
And will a ghost wall be sufficient to keep outsiders out, or will it fall just as the Berlin Wall did?Continue reading “Across the divide”