The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

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“For I see that then I was still all in a state of innocence, but that innocence, once lost, is lost forever.”

Arthur Kipps is depressed, and quite rightly so as we learn right off the bat that he’s been a widow for 12 years. Within the first chapter we learn that Arthur finds love again, but one dark Christmas eve night, sat around the fireplace in the company of his adored new step-family as they share ghost stories, Arthur is struck by a powerful and disturbing event from his past, that he’d hoped to forget. He decides that retelling his ‘ghost story’ could work as a means of exorcising the experience from his memory and so begins his tale of The Woman In Black.

Living a rather cosmopolitan life working as a young and promising solicitor in London Kipps is assigned a job out in a tiny village, dealing with the estate of a recently deceased old lady, Mrs Drablow who lived out in a secluded house, among vast marshes that are cut off from the mainland by the sea at various times throughout the day. Arriving at the village he finds himself viewed somewhat suspiciously, especially whenever anybody hears about where his job takes him, but Arthur puts the strange behavior down to small town superstition and thinks nothing more of it. Until he sees her. The first time, is at the old lady’s funeral, where she appears as an apparition with a wasted face, lurking in among the gravestones, her malevolent gaze fixed upon him. At first he mistakes her for an unfortunate (but living) woman in need of help, but he quickly learns that he is not the first to see her ghostly form, and that he wont be the last.

The woman in black is the kind of horror story that gets you unawares, exactly how a good ghost story should. Set in the dreary British autumn, Hill goes out of her way to always st the scene, detailing the nature of the weather, the quality of the light, the sense of foreboding, even before anything even remotely frightening happened I’d already been given the chills. The story is careful and paced, so even though you’re expecting a scare, Hill is so skilled at lulling you into a false sense of comfort with her brilliant scene setting, that when the horror does begin to creep up on you, it’s unbearably visceral. Unfortunately for me, I’d watched the movie adaptation before reading the book, and while I did enjoy the film, it isn’t a true adaptation at all and so I spent much of my time reading, waiting for particular plot lines and events to appear that never did. I found that the knowledge of the film distracted me from enjoying the pace of the book, which is a shame because the book is far better.

4/5

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