If you’re in the mood for a short, but dense and disturbing, book that makes you think about the concept of progress and human nature, you should definitely check out Sarah Moss’ Ghost Wall. You can probably read it in a day, but it’s the kind of book that will haunt you much longer than that.
Silvie is a modern teenager growing up in the north of England. Her father is a bus driver with a chip on his shoulder the size of a mountain, a man obsessed by the glories of the British past, before all those immigrants came in. He’s a bully to his wife and his daughter, and Silvie is already plotting how she’s going to leave home as soon as she can, when an opportunity that seems to be uniquely designed for the family presents itself.
A college anthropology class is doing a two week immersion study in which they’re going to try to live, as much as possible, the way their Iron Age ancestors did, leaving all modern civilization behind. Naturally Silvie’s father schedules his vacation to coincide, and naturally he brings his family along. He has little patience for academic types in general, and he and Silvie have more personal knowledge of ancient survival skills than any of the students, most of whom are just there to get the grades they need.
Silvie slips right in to the whole Iron Age mentality and technology, much more easily than the college students, but while she’s hunting rabbits and scavenging roots for food, she’s also observing the other young people, and imagining a different life for herself, possibly at university, possibly somewhere other than England.
However, there’s more going on than playacting. Not all of the attitudes and beliefs of the ancient Britons have disappeared entirely from modern people’s thinking, and when the group starts preparing a “ghost wall” like the ones their ancestors made to keep out invaders, disturbing questions about human sacrifices begin to percolate and rise to the surface.
Ghost Wall asks big questions about who we are, how far we’ve really progressed from our ancient roots, and what we might or might not be willing to do to survive.