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Book Review: “Ghost Wall”

Ghost Wall

Sarah Moss

Hardcover, 144 pages

Publication Date: January 8, 2019 (American release)

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Genre: Fiction, Horror

In a literary world often enthralled by thriller and suspense novels, the horror genre usually takes a backseat. I have scoured many “new releases” bookshelves looking for recent horror, but the choices are few and far between.

“Ghost Wall” was recommended by the “All the Books!” podcast when it released in North America in January. It has been available in Sarah Moss’s native England since September of last year, with good reviews to excite American readers.

“Ghost Wall” is about Sylvie, a 17-year-old girl, her abusive father and her resigned mother. Sylvie’s father, a bus driver by day and amateur historian by night, is obsessed with prehistoric England. When an anthropology professor decides to take a few of his students to the English countryside for primitive camping in order to experience the lifestyles of prehistoric peoples, Sylvie’s father decides the family will join in on the experiment.

As Sylvie struggles to hide her family’s dysfunction from the college students and her father begins to influence the professor in concerning ways, the ancient pull of the long-dead inhabitants of the countryside is felt by the campers in strange ways. Sylvie’s burgeoning independence from her parents is tested as she is forced to fight to keep herself safe from those around her.

“Ghost Wall” is a short, unique book. Despite its length, it was not an easy or unchallenging read. Moss adopts a purposeful but indirect way of telling the story, namely by not using any quotes or other formatting for dialogue. When characters do speak, it is usually in choppy, run-on sentences, and these make for realistic but careful reading. Here is an excerpt to get an idea of Moss’s writing for “Ghost Wall:”

When I returned to the fire, my mother was kneeling at its side, not propitiating the gods but hefting slabs of green turf from a pile. Give us a hand, Sil, she said, he says if you do it right you can cover it for the night and pull the turfs off in the morning, he says that’s how they always did it, them. In the old days.

This was not a book I could breeze through. The style takes some getting used to, but it fits the book and is well done. It works for a book this short, but I am not sure how I would have handled 300 pages of it.

As for the horror aspect, I was expecting “Ghost Wall” to be more upfront about it. It is a very slow burn, but it gets creepier as the plot progresses. You can see the end coming before it happens, but this adds to the dread the book spends its pages building up. Knowing what will happen but being unable to stop it makes the ending that much scarier.

“Ghost Wall” was not what I was expecting from a horror standpoint, but it is good nonetheless. I think I will have to be in the right mood to read the rest of Moss’s books, but she is certainly a talented writer with an eye for a strong plot. I recommend checking “Ghost Wall” out.

Paige Holmes is a junior journalism major from Topeka, KS. Reading is her favorite thing to do because it teaches one how to think, imagine and live. Paige believes there is no better way to learn something or be entertained than by reading a book. Her favorite genre of books is fantasy/thriller and her favorite book is ‘Opening Moves’ by Steven James.

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