Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I found the blurb for this book, with hindsight, a little misleading. Similarly it’s classification in ‘Horror’ fiction and whatever algorithm suggested it to me having just finished a ghost story. If you find yourself thinking this is a ghost horror; it’s not. There are no ghosts nor any supernatural goings on. To me, expecting a ghost story I was a little disappointed – more on what’s actually in the book later.
This is written in what I can only think to describe as continuous prose. There are no speech marks and no new lines for dialogue. There’s internal and vocalised dialogue mixed in together that is hard to differentiate. It is one long train of thought from the narrator, Sylvie, and it does get hard to follow. I was OK dealing with it around 70% of the time and the remainder I found myself puzzling, re-reading and ultimately being jarred out of the flow of the story. This meant I couldn’t fully engage with the story because of both content and style.
*THIS SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS*
As I mentioned before, there’s no ghosts. I kept reading in the hope that some would appear once the eponymous Ghost Wall was constructed by the characters. Still, no. Instead the story is one of domestic abuse and violence enacted by Sylvie’s Dad on both her and her mother. The setting of an experiential archaeology field trip is superfluous to the central story of the abuse and the story could have been set anywhere. I found a lot of it an unpleasant read – with a knot in my stomach and a desperate desire to jump into the story and talk some sense into everyone involved. I was frustrated and angry.
That is the greatest success of this book: that it makes you feel angry and awkward and impotent at the plight of two women being physically and psychologically abused. It is also for this reason I find it a little disrespectful to classify the book as ‘horror’. Not to the author, or the book, but to the real people in real life who have to suffer like Sylvie and her mum. Those situations are horrifying and they are real. I know it’s unlikely the exact events of Ghost Wall have happened in real life but many similar things have – and they are not ‘horror’ fiction.
It is a realistic account of domestic abuse and especially how it can mess with the victim’s mind. If you weren’t expecting that, then be aware this won’t be a pleasant read. The style of the prose is hard to stick with and you may get lost along the way. The story ends just as Sylvie might be getting a chance at something better – and I want to read about that – which was a little frustrating as well. The blurb and classification of the book are a bit off; do a bit more research than I did and read through other people’s reviews – don’t just look at the average rating.
The combined issues I’ve highlighted, for me, detracted from the overall experience. I would still say it was an important read even if I didn’t like it much in the end. It is certainly not an easy read.
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