Book Review: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

584843Title: The Woman in Black
Author: Susan Hill
Genre: Horror, Supernatural Thriller, Ghosts
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: First publication in 1983
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Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor in London, is summoned to Crythin Gifford to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow, and to sort through her papers before returning to London. It is here that Kipps first sees the woman in black and begins to gain an impression of the mystery surrounding her. From the funeral he travels to Eel Marsh House and sees the woman again; he also hears the terrifying sounds on the marsh.

Despite Kipps’s experiences he resolves to spend the night at the house and fulfil his professional duty. It is this night at Eel Marsh House that contains the greatest horror for Kipps. Kipps later discovers the reasons behind the hauntings at Eel Marsh House. The book ends with the woman in black exacting a final, terrible revenge.

I read The Woman in Black late at night, with the lights out except my reading light. Thank God, I wasn’t home alone. This novel was one of the scariest books I’ve had the pleasure to read all year. It made shivers run down my spine, and occasionally I risked a glance behind me to see if some supernatural creature hadn’t crept up on me from behind.

The prose of this book is delicious. It reminds me of Edgar Poe, of Austen and Mary Shelley, a fluent narrative that is both entrancing and exciting. The story itself is both unique and familiar. A young lawyer named Kipps needs to handle an estate out in the country, after its owner, an old woman, passed away. When he travels there, he finds out that the old woman’s paperwork is in bad shape, and he needs to spend a few days in her mansion in the moors to make an index of everything she owned. Local villagers aren’t pleased to see Kipps go to the moors. At first, Kipps isn’t sure why, until he spends a day at the Eel Marsh House and finds out a thrilling but terrible secret that rocks the foundations of his very world. Eel Marsh House is haunted. Kipps has to find out by whom and why, before she extracts her terrible vengeance on him as well.

So this story has the basic shape of every gothic ghost story. An abandoned house in the moors, a young protagonist who does not believe in spirits until confronted with them, whose also brave and resourceful, and a tragic secret of the past that’s the source of all this ghostly activity. What The Woman in Black does with these predefined elements of horror literature, is reshape them and rebuild them, mold them into a story that is truly horrible and scary, eerie in its very nature, a sort of climax of everything the gothic horror genre stands for.

The characters are colorful and different. They’re standard prototypes and yet they’re not. The descriptions are amazing, and instantly transport the reader back in time. The setting is both tranquil and eerie, a perfect fit for the story unfolding in the background. The protagonist is both charming and endearing, both skeptic and a realist.

I’ve read the book, and then watched the movie. The movie doesn’t entirely follow the plot of the book, and that’s a shame. The movie ending felt flat, even a little lame, a stupid ending as opposed to the truly horrific ending of the novel, in true gothic horror style. Even if you’ve seen the film and were disappointed, give the book a try. The prose alone makes it worth reading, and the well-developed characters and multi-layered story only add to that.

The Woman in Black is one of my favorite books ever. I recommend it to all horror and ghost story fans. Ideal to read late at night or during a thunderstorm.

Comments

  1. ooh so glad it was good, i saw the movie before i realized it was based on a book :(. Adding this too my wish list, i love a good creepy read..LOL

  2. I saw the movie and it was Scary!

  3. I’ve read other susan cooper books and she writes spooky books. The BBC movie of “The Woman in Black” was a cult classic for years because it has this really scary scene in the bedroom. I haven’t seen the new version yet, but it looks good.

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