GHOST WALL by Sarah Moss

Each of us, I suppose, has our own obsessions, our own fixations.

But what happens when the occupation by the destinies of the dead and distant is greater and more important than the occupation by the destinies of the living, the near?

Who are ghosts again, us or our dead? Maybe they imagined us first, maybe we were conjured out of the deep past by other minds.

GHOST WALL by Sarah Moss

Her father has always been fascinated by the stories, legends and history of the first inhabitants of the British Isles; this could be seen, for example, from the names he gave her, which they shortened to “Sylvie” to make life easier for other people.

A small expedition of anthropology students led by Professor Jim Slade arrived in their area in the north of England – rural but still close to civilization – to spend two weeks in nature trying to live like the Celtic tribes of the Iron Age.

In order to ensure the greatest possible authenticity of this experience, they were welcomed by someone who devoted his entire life to learning everything that could be learned about the birth, life and death of these first people. Sylvie’s father was given a chance to live – to organize the life of this small community of people, to make that life as similar as possible to the tribal life of the people of the swamp.

The students, and among them Sylvie and her parents, listening to Sylvie’s father’s instructions, will soon begin to live, eat, cook, sleep like people who lived before the Roman conquests. In the evening, gathered by the fire, they will listen to old legends about old people, some of them very dark and tied right to the end and to the swamp in which they are located. Former people, in fact, offered human sacrifices – so much of the remains, which modern researchers found in the swamps of northern England, could be clearly concluded.

 Of course, that was the whole point of the re-enactment, that we ourselves became the ghosts, learning to walk the land as they walked it two thousand years ago, to tend our fire as they tended theirs and hope that some of their thoughts, their way of understanding the world, would follow the dance of muscle and bone. 

GHOST WALL by Sarah Moss

One of the stories was about a girl of Sylvie’s age, who had just entered puberty. Because of this story, Sylvie will quietly begin to address issues that should not be addressed by a child her age – how was she sacrificed, that young girl her age? Did she grow up knowing that she would be sacrificed, that her days were numbered, or did she only find out the night before that it was her turn, that she had been chosen? How do you say goodbye to life when you have every day of your conscious life at your disposal and when you have less than one day to do so?

As this little experiment in nature progresses, it becomes clear to the reader and Sylvie herself (but, unfortunately, to no one else) that her father takes everything they do much, much more seriously. Perhaps students have the privilege of understanding this swampy adventure of theirs as an unusual excursion into a lifestyle whose rules do not have to be strictly adhered to.

For Sylvie, however, other, much stricter rules are beginning to apply. Her father seems to be unable to stop, as if he cannot distinguish between reality and the past she idealizes…

What happens, then, when the occupation by the destinies of the dead and distant is greater and more important than the occupation by the destinies of the living, the near? The answer is: “Nothing good“

Lights blind you; there’s a lot you miss by gathering at the fireside.

GHOST WALL by Sarah Moss

This is a small book, I think it can be read during a slightly longer and more relaxed sitting over coffee. Still, I would not recommend it to those who just want to relax for a few hours in peace and quiet. This little book, if you are inclined to think about the fate of children – especially female children – will not give you peace because it will make you draw comparisons between the story of this young girl imagined by Sarah Moss and the girls who live around us.

This is a short book, and it carries such a loud, clear, warning message and question – what kind of parental obsessions have curtailed the normal curiosities of our young people? Before what imaginary deities do our present-day parents worship, sacrificing to them irretrievably the most beautiful years of their own children’s lives? How it is to live your young life fully aware (or, worse, painfully unaware) of the fact that as a child you are only a servant of parental loyalty to some atavistic ideals to which they are willing to subordinate both their lives and yours – because they believe they have a right to it, because they think they are the owners of your life?

What kind of walls do today’s parents (out of ignorance, but also out of obsession with private beliefs that should remain just that – private, only theirs) build the lives of their children, not allowing them to walk past them and choose the direction in which to go? into the world? Isn’t it sad that these walls today will cripple and impoverish freedoms and lives – the only, unique lives – of children and young people, and in a few generations these walls will become just a legend, part of the story of cramped lives of former, uncivilized tribes…

Dad and I find ash, I said, up on the moor tops at home, people say they want to be scattered there as if scattering is making something go away entirely and then we sit down with our sandwiches and realize we’re in the middle of someone’s granny, of course they always choose the places you’d stop for lunch, somewhere on the top of a ridge with a nice view.

GHOST WALL by Sarah Moss

Creepy and disturbing reading for those who, as they read, love to think… Sarah Moss writes so clearly, and so vividly and evocatively. I can’t wait to get my hands on her other books, which, for some reason, are still waiting on my shelves.

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