This brings us to a key theme of the book: performance. These characters are playing by reenacting Iron Age life; in front of her new friends, Silvie is playing at being someone who doesn’t have an abusive father; her father is playing the role of someone who can use historical context to demand the unquestioned respect he feels all men are due. Aside from the last example, playing, on paper, is healthy. We all need room to experiment — to try. It brings to mind Barrie’s Neverlands: imagined places that live in the psyches of children, islands that are combed through by mothers late at night. Neverlands are safe spaces where our childhood selves can battle with our parents (Peter being a manifestation of Wendy, Hook being her father), so we can decide whether or not we’re ready to grow up. But what happens when Neverlands become reality? When fairy dust turns to mud and swords can actually kill you? Ghost Wall examines this divide between play and menace, in the vein of The Third Wave experiment: the mob mentality of a group of people kidding themselves that what they are doing is just pretend… just for fun… until it’s not.
‘Dad didn’t like the Irish, tended to see Catholicism in much the same light as the earlier form of Roman imperialism. Foreigners coming over here, telling us what to think. He wanted his own ancestry, wanted a lineage, a claim on something. Not people from Ireland or Rome or Germany or Syria but some tribe sprung from English soil like mushrooms in the night.’
Silvie’s father is an overgrown Lost Boy. He is part of a working class that’s been abandoned by its government and forgotten by society. He clings to nostalgic ideas of what England “used to be,” an England long before his time where, he feels, he would feel at home. It’s a fictional place, a literal never land and a selective narrative that’s been handed down to him, moulded by patriarchy and imperialism and, ironically, the elite he despises. Nestled by the Scottish border, Ghost Wall touches on divisions within families, countries and continents. It’s this which means the book is not only ghosted by the past it explores, but it’s also ghosted by its future. Brexit haunts it. Trump haunts it. This little book will haunt you, too.
This review was written by the author and poet Jen Campbell. The book club exists in a purely digital sphere but we hope that you will add your own thoughts and comments below. As a thank you, all those who comment will be entered into a prize draw to win a copy of When Hitler Stole the Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr, the next book to be reviewed. Prize draw ends Monday 10th December.