Book Review: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
It’s hard to know where to begin when talking about this book. Compared to the film adaptation it’s very slow, not scary, and basically nothing happens. But somehow it’s a million times better.
It’s only a short book, the copy I read being just short of 160 pages, which means if you’re like me you can read it in one sitting. And if you’re like me you will, because once you start you won’t want to stop.
For this who are unaware, the story revolves around Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer from London who is asked to visit a far away village called Crythin Gifford to arrange the affairs of the estate of the recently deceased Mrs Alice Drablow. Seems straight forward, right? In theory it should be, and it is, but it’s not without its complications. Mrs Drablow spent he final years isolated at Eel Marsh House: often isolated in the literal sense. The fictional house is across a causeway which at high tide is impassable. Plan your trip wisely, or you just might have to stay longer than you want.
Kipps finds hostile villagers, rumours of strange goings on and an almost complete reluctance to help him. Save for Mr Samuel Daily, a kind man he meets on the train and befriends, Kipps is quite alone. Except for the woman in black.
One of the things I loved about this book is the style of it; though first published in 1983, the Gothic style it’s written in is so well done, is so genuine, it could easily have come from that period. Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, could easily have written this novel, and it wouldn’t stand out. The author, Susan Hill, writes with such prowess you forget who and where you are, all you are aware of in the world is a need to know what’s going to happen.
And what happens is absolutely enthralling. As I said earlier, it’s not especially scary, at least not by today’s standards. Though that may just be me – I was raised on a strict diet of Stephen King, so most things seem tame compared to that. This is another way you can feel the Gothic; you can imagine this book being written in the 17- or 18-hundreds, and being absolutely terrifying. It really plays upon traditional elements of horror and fear; things that were much more prevalent 200 years ago than now.
That’s not to say it isn’t at all scary. Hill’s writing is so vivid, so believable, there were times I found myself glancing around the room, just making sure I was alone. Making sure there was no woman in black loitering, watching and waiting, biding her time. Her appearances in the book are brief and few and far between, but they are enough. It’s a very subtle book, and this really works for it.
Subtle, that is, until the ending. I won’t spoil it, but suffice it to say I was absolutely floored. I did not see that coming!
You’ve probably seen the film, which is fine. It’s a decent one, and Daniel Radcliffe is a good actor, but as tends to be the case 99% of the time, the book is far superior. I highly recommend it. It’s very short, so even if you don’t like it you won’t lose much time.
But just be careful whatever you do, because she may be waiting for you…