Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Woman in Black: Review

The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill is my second installment for the Gothic Reading Challenge. This one was much more to my liking than the first book (We Have Always Lived in the Castle). Of course, I knew what I was getting myself into because I had seen and enjoyed the play a couple of years ago. The play was magnificent--a real edge-of-your-seat, chills down your back, spine-tingler.

The book is no slouch either. Told by Arthur Kipps, an older man looking back on events of his youth, the story revolves around his trip to a lonely house on the English moors. The elderly lady who has lived there for years and who has been a client of the law firm which employs him has passed on and someone from the firm must go to the funeral and gather up all relevant papers from her isolated home. Kipps anticipates no problems--just the usual shoeboxes of bills and letters from an eccentric old woman berating her relations or shopkeepers. But the routine formalities give way to eerie events starting with the sickly-looking woman in black who appears at the funeral. Kipps soon finds that the residents of the local town are reluctant to discuss Eel Marsh House or the doings of Mrs. Alice Drablow, late owner.

Upon his visit to the estate, he encounters the woman in black once again and then events turn even more sinister--the sound of the rocking chair in the abandoned nursery, the terrifying sound of a pony and trap in the fog, and the accompanying terrified scream of a child. At first the young cosmopolitan lawyer is determined to find logical reasons behind what he encounters. And when logic fails, he still believes that if he faces the unknown, it will be less terrifying. Before he is finished at the house, Kipps will find himself taken to the edge of sanity and dragged into a nightmare world where he isn't sure what is real and what isn't. He eventually completes his mission the best he can, but not before the atmosphere takes its toll on him. The story finishes with a surprising and horrifying climax.

Susan Hill does a marvelous job building up the suspense once Kipps reaches his destination. The atmosphere around the house and grounds is exactly right and the descriptions are sure to make the reader wish for the lights to be on full and for there to be company in the room where they are reading. A thoroughly enjoyable old-fashioned ghost story. Four stars.


Marce said...

You intrigued me with this one the other day and now i'm like yup got to read that, thanks Bev.

J F Norris said...

There was Chicago production of this years ago and I was majorly disappointed. It must have been the way it was directed. It requires two incredibly talented actors to play all those parts and they weren't in the production I saw. For some reason very few Chicago actors have a mastery English accents and British dialects. When there is sloppy voice work in a play it drives me to distraction and often ruins a theater experience for me. I thought it eerie and atmospheric, but far from the thriller it is touted to be. I'm not sure if it's still running in London but I'm sure the original is far superior to what I saw. I wasn't spooked once and I wanted to be.

I've wanted to read the book for a while. When I saw it in Borders one day last year I was surprised. Was it a novel first and then turned into a play?

Bev Hankins said...

@John: book first then play then movie.

Barbara said...

I do like this book, I saw it on stage too here in the UK and it was terrifying! The BBC TV production is very good too. I've heard they're making a film version with Daniel Radcliffe.

Carol said...

I really enjoy her Simon Serraillier novels (though I'm mildly irritated at her bestowing such an unpronounceable name on her protagonist). Also just finished her "Howard's End is on the Landing," which I'd recommend for book lovers. Haven't read this, but it sounds like a good read. She's excellent at portraying the thin edge between lunacy and reason.

Bev Hankins said...

Howard's End Is on the Landing is on my wish-list!