Alas, we cannot give you Austen, but Susan Hill's remarkable Woman In Black comes as close as our era can provide. Set on the obligatory English moor, on an isolated causeway, the story has as its hero Arthur Kipps, an up-and-coming young solicitor who has come north from London to attend the funeral and settle the affairs of Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. The routine formalities he anticipates give way to a tumble of events and secrets more sinister and terrifying than any nightmare: the rocking chair in the deserted nursery, the eerie sound of a pony and trap, a child's scream in the fog, and most dreadfully--and for Kipps most tragically--The Woman In Black.
The Woman In Black is both a brilliant exercise in atmosphere and controlled horror and a delicious spine-tingler--proof positive that this neglected genre, the ghost story, isn't dead after all.
As a bloke there aren’t many things that scare me, especially when it comes to literature. For a while I have been asking for suggestions of books that will actually frighten me, giving me a sense of both dread and fear. My wife suggested the Woman in Black by Susan Hill and to begin with I was rather reluctant as I had watched the movie a while back and had no recollection of whether it frightened me or not. However once I started the book, and after a rather uneventful and slow first couple of chapters I was completely engrossed in this story of a vengeful and hate filled spectre.
The narrator is Arthur Kipps, the book begins with a family sat in front of a fire telling ghost stories and when asked to share his own it rekindles memories in his mind that he would rather forget. Instead, he writes his secret and it is this telling that makes up the main body of the story. I didn’t really see the need for this section and believe it could have been left out as it does reveal that the main protagonist is going to live which takes away from the suspense. However, the ending still shocked and saddened me.
Arthur Kipps is called to Eel Marsh house as the solicitor charged with sorting through the late Mrs. Alice Drablow’s legal documents and attending her funeral. First of all, when I say I’m not easily scared, one thing that would not be on my ‘to do’ list is visit a huge, isolated, close to a grave yard creepy house. Secondly, if I arrived at a town where said house is located and every member of the community doesn’t speak about it then that’s when I hand in my resignation and go home. Instead, Arthur goes there alone and it is soon evident that not everything is as it seems. Susan Hill’s description of the house and surrounding landscape is excellent and adds to the suspenseful and tense atmosphere throughout the story. She is able to depict scenes of absolute normality and then transport you to the frightening confines of the small landmass which the manor sits on.
“My head reeled at the sheer and startling beauty, the wide, bare openness of it. The sense of space, the vastness of the sky above and on either side made my heart race, I would have travelled a thousand miles to see this. I had never imagined such a place.”
The Woman in Black herself makes an appearance early on but it is done in a way that slowly reveals that she is not a living person but a ghost and upon realisation this had me slightly scared, the effect that Arthur’s description of the woman to another individual and their subsequent reaction unveils a sinister background to her character which compelled me to read on, to unearth the secrets of the manor and the woman in black. The detailed description of the women herself is one that will stick in my mind for a while.
It is Arthurs unimaginative and naïve personality that compels him to continue with his work and simply forget the mysterious woman in black, it is not long before he meets her again. The story continues to ramp up the fear factor, Susan Hill does not pack this book with scare after scare but instead unveils small clues surrounding the mystery of Eel Marsh house and when horrors do manifest it is slowly, Hill’s descriptive narration creates some spine chilling and heart pounding moments which actually had me reluctant to turn the page in fear of what might transpire. If you have ever had a dog and suddenly found the dog staring intently at nothing or growling as if an intruder had entered its domain then you will undoubtedly be able to relate to one such scene as I was.
This is a chilling and gripping book, narrated in the voice of Arthur Kipps whose language Susan Hill captures brilliantly instilling the Edwardian era and feel throughout the book, transporting the reader back in time. Transporting the reader to a captivating yet unsettling location and putting them in moments of peril and terror. Done so in a way that will leave you breathless and frightened. I asked for a book that would scare me and that’s exactly what I received especially as my wife has now taken to hiding around corners with her hooded coat on, sucking her cheeks in and jumping out at me.