Book Review: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Synopsis: Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor, is summoned to attend the funeral Mrs Alice Drablow, the house's sole inhabitant of Eel Marsh House, unaware of the tragic secrets which lie hidden behind the shuttered windows. The house stands at the end of a causeway, wreathed in fog and mystery, but it is not until he glimpses a wasted young woman, dressed all in black, at the funeral, that a creeping sense of unease begins to take hold, a feeling deepened by the reluctance of the locals to talk of the woman in black - and her terrible purpose.

Pages: 208

Rating: 6/10

Overall: Quick, enjoyable read that keeps cranking up the tension once it gets going. The chilling ending will stick with you for a long time after you put it down and make up for a few pacing issues.
The Woman in Black

I'm going to level with you and admit that I only bought this book because I had seen the film. Which I only saw because of Daniel Radcliffe. But I was intrigued as to how a book can convey horror, when the jump-six-feet-in-the-air-because-a-face-appeared-in-a-reflection type thing can't really be done. I'd never read any horror before this so I had no idea what to expect.

For full disclosure, I enjoyed the film and was terrified most of the time. I was also aware before I picked up the book, that the the story in the film had had some major changes done to it.

So, was it scary? Well... yes and no. For me, a horror film is there to make you jump in your seat and make embarrassing noises when surrounded by strangers. The thing with prose is, how do you replace those jump-inducing moments, because I cannot for the life of me work out how you could write something that could make you jump in the same way. 

Instead, after a slightly slow start, The Woman in Black ratchets up the tension as Arthur Kipps creeps down a dark hallway to investigate a mysterious ticking thunking noise or spots the woman in black standing in the graveyard. I often felt like my heart was in my throat during these scenes. But I guess I found myself... wanting. Wanting that release of tension that the Big Scare gives you.

However, this lack of release is counteracted by the chilling story behind the ghostly woman in black, which culminates in an equally chilling ending to Arthur Kipps' own story. The ending is greatly changed in the film version, but both leave you with a chronic case of the heebie jeebies. 

I quite liked the character of Arthur Kipps. He is a rather forthright young man, who has a certain arrogance, that of a city man feeling superior to the simple country bumpkins. Initially, he dismisses the veiled suggestions to not go to the Drablow house. He dismisses it all as hearsay and superstition. Nothing that can't be overcome with some pragmatism and good old British stiff upper lip. His can-do attitude is rather endearing, if horribly misguided. Despite this, he eventually admits to himself, and to others, that the house is most definitely haunted and even he can't work with it.

The writing style definitely leant itself to the classic ghost story. It reads like a Victorian novel, with long, expansive sentences and some old-fashion vocabulary. I liked the descriptiveness of it, although I imagine some people might find it tedious and distracting from the whole ghost story bit. The dialogue was sometimes a bit wooden, with characters talking in clipped, short sentences. In some cases this fit the scene but in others it broke the flow. But to be honest, there isn't a lot of dialogue anyway.

After the slow start, I started to enjoy the tension, even if it was lacking something. I'm sure there are some better horror books out there (recommendations below please) but I think this is a good one to dip your toe in with.

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