A perfect narrative, from start to finish. I loved everything about it: the cover is beautiful and haunting, the trim size is so unique, the structure of the tale with all the dialogue run-in worked perfectly, and the slow build-up of tension throughout adds an ominous sinking in your stomach that you just can't ignore.
This one is added to the pile of horror-adjacent books I read (and loved!) this year, including The Third Hotel by Laura van den Berg, The Job of the Wasp by Colin Winnette, and The Bus on Thursday by Shirley Barrett. Like those, this book was highly literary, incorporating multiple themes, ideas, and motifs, while also being a dark tale with components crucial to (good? Well, perhaps that's debatable) horror.
Main character Sylvie is our eyes into this narrative. Her father is enamored with the ancient history of Britain, and has dragged his wife and child to a summer excursion with a class of college students studying the Iron Age and reenacting how life would have been by living off the land for several weeks.
This short book is full of mirroring and symbolism. Molly, a student on the trip, acts as the foil of Sylvie. She is willing and even eager to break every rule, has grand plans for her life, is an action-taking character, and throughout tries to help Sylvie break down the walls that she (and her parents) have built up around her. Molly's repeated attempts to help Sylvie grow into her own are mirrored in a discussion of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the oppressive forces that it stood for, and the building by the campers of a ghost wall—something that ancient Britons made and enforced with skulls of their ancestors as a spiritual attempt to keep out enemy forces.
And it isn't just all held together with symbolism. This is a very character-driven tale, with Sylvie and her father's relationship the main source of tension. Her father is an overbearing and violent man, using the excuse of history and his blind passion for the subject as an excuse for the constant abuse of his wife and daughter. Though it is begins subtly, the oppressive nature of his relationship with them and how both mother and daughter are caught up as victims, trying to cover up and justify his actions, is threaded throughout the narrative in a sadly believable way.
The writing throughout, and especially the descriptions of nature and Sylvie's internal stream-of-conscious narrative is flawless and brilliantly rendered. Moss is an extreme talent and wordsmith.
The ending was not at all expected, but I think it snuck by me because of the slow, ominous build of the narrative. It was perfect and I couldn't be torn away from it.
Ruminating on nature, how collective and personal history shapes us, and what comes from prejudice and extremism, this is a masterpiece despite its short length. Highly recommended
My thanks to FSG for sending me a finished copy of this one to read and review.
Associate editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.