Thursday, 12 July 2012

Book review: The Woman in Black

By Susan Hill
Published by Profile Books

Since reading The Small Hand by Susan Hill last year, her more famous ghost story, The Woman in Black, shot to the top of my reading list. Now that I’ve read it, ghost story sounds so diminishing that I’d rather describe it as a supernatural masterpiece.

Before starting the book, I made the mistake of watching the trailer of the film of the same name starring Daniel Radcliffe that came out this year. I call it a mistake because that one minute and forty-one seconds scared me beyond imagination. So much, in fact, that I refused to do any reading after dusk – just in case!

The Woman in Black opens in the winter of 1920. Arthur Kipps is sitting around the fireplace with his family when he is prompted to tell them a ghost story. Upset, he leaves the room. Ghost stories are not a laughing matter so he later sets out to write a memoir narrating the dreadful events that marked his life forever.

That’s how we step back in time and we travel with Arthur to Crythin Gifford, a small town in the north of England, to attend the funeral of an elderly customer of the solicitor he works for and examine the papers she left behind. The late Mrs Drablow used to live alone at Eel Marsh House, eerily located at the end of a long tidal causeway.

Despite the strange reactions encountered in town at every mention of the house, Arthur decides to spend a few days there on his own, unconcerned by the fact that, at high tide, he will be completely cut off from the mainland. To give him credit, his determination doesn’t waver easily.

At first, he dismisses the apparition of a sickly-looking woman dressed in black as well as sounds and voices that can’t be logically accounted for, strong in his belief that nothing bad can happen to a young and sane man like him. Needless to say, his beliefs will be challenged in the course of the following days.

This book has all the elements of a great ghost story: an isolated house, a ghost, a spooky mist, the tragic story of a mother and her lost son and, last but not least, a curse. The narrative is slow in a way that will make you feel safe before creeping up on you to shock you with a completely unexpected turn of events.

A must read if you’re after an intelligently subtle spine-chilling effect concentrated in one exquisite little novel!