Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Woman In Black by Susan Hill 

What is it about horror stories that we find so captivating? Why do readers lap up stories of ghosts, witches, warlocks and goblins year after year after year? When you stop to consider it this need to be frightened is totally irrational and yet horror stories continue to entertain. The Woman In Black effortlessly fits into this category and its fame is secured as it has now been adapted for the big screen.

The novel beings on a Christmas Eve with Arthur Kipps and his wife Esme and stepchildren sitting around the fire celebrating the season. They decide to begin relating ghost stories calling it part of an ancient tradition. Arthur declines taking part and after listening in silence to tales of ghosts and monsters decides he needs some fresh air. Arthur has his own story to tell but it is most definitely not for festive amusement.

The memory of his story weighs heavily upon him and Arthur decides to record his supernatural experience. The tale begins many years earlier when as a young man working in a firm of solicitors in London he was dispatched to the north east coast of England. His destination is the farming town of Crythin Gifford where he is to sort out the papers belonging to a recently deceased client of the firm, a reclusive widow named Alice Drablow.

Arthur attends Mrs. Drablow funeral, a pathetic affair, where he notices standing at the back of the church a mysterious woman dressed in black. He enquires as to who she could be but is fobbed off and given mysterious half answers. Shortly afterward Arthur decides to visit Mrs. Drablow’s home, and organise her papers.

Situated several miles outside the town Mrs. Drablow’s residence was Eel Marsh House an isolated mansion situated at the end of Nine Lives Causeway. Access along the causeway is restricted and it can only be accessed once the tide recedes in the morning.

Because of a change in the weather Arthur is forced to stay the night in the house. Out of the mist which surrounds the causeway he hears the terrified whining of a drowning pony and the plaintive and increasingly faint cries of a young child. It is the beginning of Arthur’s ghostly experience and one which will haunt him for the rest of his days.

Although written in the 1990’s the book reads as if it was an old fashioned Victorian ghost story. This is a credit to the writer, Susan Hill and that she can maintain this throughout without inadvertently lapsing into a modern prose style is nothing short of astounding.

The Women In Black consists of 150 pages and needs not one more. Susan Hill implies the terror of Eel Marsh House and the genuinely frightening atmosphere that permeates throughout. Through vivid descriptions of the deceptively peaceful Eel Marsh House she dispenses with the need for spine chilling, blood drenched vampires and monsters. Its pitch is just right and it’s been a long time since a writer was quite literally able to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand upright.

With an ending that is truly horrific and heart wrenching it is no cliché to say that The Woman In Black is a story which will stay with the reader long after they’ve read the last page.


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