This came from the Christmas pile of gifted books, and was added to the list after reading multiple positive reviews in the ‘books of the year’ round-ups. And bloody hell, does this book deserve it – it’s an absolutely compelling novella, which gripped me from start to frenzied finish.
On the face of it, the book is about 17 year-old Silvie who is with her Mum & Dad on a slightly weird holiday in which they are re-enacting how people used to live in the Iron Age: ‘experiential archaeology’. They are there with three archaeology students and their Professor, Jim Slade. Silvie’s family are there primarily because her Dad (Bill) has a strong personal interest in these historical ways of living, and is a bit obsessed with British archaeology (despite his day job as a bus driver) and inflicts his nostalgia on his family.
However, the book is about much more than that – you could read it as a young woman’s realisation of the strangeness of her own family as she grows up (and how parents can indoctrinate); you could read it as a comment on Brexit (the love of archaeological Britain, it turns out, is also about some hoped-for racial purity and connected to a general dislike of foreigners); you could also read it as about gender politics and violence changing in different generations (Silvie’s Dad has a fairly fixed view of women as cooks and cleaners, and a brutal approach to enforcing that); you could read it as about class (there are some acute moments between the students and Silvie); or you could read it as a straight thriller in which the tension ratchets up to a terrifyingly plausible climax.
Of course, it is about all of those things, but none of those themes is heavy-handed at all – there is no ‘Brexit allegory klaxon’ going off in the background, but rather things are beautifully, subtly introduced. The relatively small patch of countryside they are living and foraging in is wonderfully evoked, and you can smell the berries and feel the rocks under foot as they move around. And while not all of the characters feel fully-rounded (perhaps no surprise in a 150 page book), Silvie is a likeable, engaging, complex character who feels utterly real from the moment we meet her.
It is a pointed, subtle rebuke to those who want to suppress and disempower people like Silvie; and a fabulous, thought-provoking, gracefully written story.
BUY IT NOW: Ghost Wall