I finished this slight novel in a corner of Oxford Circus tube station so that I wouldn’t be disturbed by commuters in the concluding moments of Silvie’s story. This is a book that crept up on me as I read it and then has been ringing between my ears ever since. Seventeen-year-old Sylvie (whose name is short for Sulevia, chosen by her father, after an ancient British goddess) is a funny, brave and beguiling narrator. Sylvie has been taken by her Father and Mother to an iron age re-enactment week in rural Northumberland. They are joined by an Experimental Archaeology professor and some of his students. What transpires is a masterly exploration by Moss of class, sexual and regional oppressions and the dangers of idealising the rituals of the past.
If Ghost Wall were a film it would be a Best British Bafta winning Andrea Arnold film. The descriptions of an oppressive summer and Sylvie’s burgeoning sexuality are glorious. “Her belly was rounder than mine, a pale curve dented by her belly button. I suddenly wanted to touch. I looked away. She splashed past me. Dan and Pete looked unconcerned, as if they saw women half naked in public every day, but I saw Pete glancing away and then back and then away again. Molly, up to her waist, reached round to unhook her bra from behind in a way I’d seen on TV though not, for example, in the girls changing room.” (p.56).
Moss vividly transports the reader to a stiflingly hot, uncomfortable summer. We experience Sylvie’s tastes of exhilarating freedom and crushing debasements with her, as she comes of age in a brutal and brilliant climax. I feel this is an important piece of fiction about female friendship and what it means to be a victim. Silvie is an inspired heroine and no typical victim. Moss isn’t afraid to look at toxic masculinity in both its blatantly violent and also subtle, middle class, well-educated forms. The result is a quick read that leaves you gasping for breath and willing Sulevia to take hold of the goddess-like qualities she can just about touch with her fingertips.