…which I learned about from reading Spider magazine.
Ghost Wall kicks off with a young woman being led to the peaty gloom before snapping back to a modern teenager forced to reenact the Iron Age with her father and the massive chip on his shoulder.
Clocking in at a mere 130 pages, Ghost Wall bridges the expanse from ancient Britons to bored college students. Sarah Moss’s prose is sparse but lush; months worth of meditations shift and shimmer through the fog of just 130 pages. A theme reigns supreme throughout this expanse: a woman’s worth can only be described through her purity. Parents, professors, students, and ancients combine to judge, scold, torture, and mutilate young female flesh in the name of history and tradition.
Doom and dread permeate every sun drenched moor and lukewarm ocean wave as our narrator struggles to define herself among the physical and spiritual barricades of being a female teenager in the north of England. She grapples with her need to grow and thrive against the internal misogyny sown deep into her bones by her puritanical father and her frightened mother. She and the other women are left behind to tend the fire and beat out filthy tunics while the male reenactors cavort freely in the woods (or what’s left of woods- there is no wilderness left in England- a fact that is lamented upon throughout this story.
“Bloody hell, said Molly, do you think women have always been hearing the approach of men from two miles off, do you think it was like football and they could tell from the calls in the woods if the woolly mammoths or hunters had won? I didn’t like it when she talked like that, wanted to go on believing that men were also people, and there are not, in fact, two kinds of human. Women get excited too, I said, they get shrill in groups, you can hear them laughing on trains some times.”
Our narrator and her mother have life happen to them; they are offerings laid out and stripped bare by the ancient power of patriarchy…but people can change. Agency can be attained. Women can look forward to more than a moment to sit down- a treat that our narrator’s mother longs for throughout the day.