Book reviews, musings and waffle from a British lit addict

Review: ‘The Small Hand’ by Susan Hill

Date finished: 21 September 2011

Rating: 2.5 stars

Format: eBook

Source: Bought

Genre: Thriller

Published: by Profile Books Limited in September 2010

The Synopsis [taken from Waterstones.com]

Returning home from a visit to a client late one summer’s evening, antiquarian bookseller Adam Snow takes a wrong turning and stumbles across the derelict old White House. Compelled by curiosity, he approaches the door, and, standing before the entrance feels the unmistakeable sensation of a small hand creeping into his own, ‘as if a child had taken hold of it’. Intrigued by the encounter, he determines to learn more, and discovers that the owner’s grandson had drowned tragically many years before. At first unperturbed by the odd experience, Snow begins to be plagued by haunting dreams, panic attacks, and more frequent visits from the small hand which become increasingly threatening and sinister…

The Review

I think that I bought this as part of the frenzy of eBook buying that occured shortly after I got my eReader but can’t quite remember. Suffice it to say, this has been lurking around in my electronic life for a long time. Having witnessed the great love that a lot of people have for The Woman in Black by the same author and it being very wintery outside, I figured that a good ghost story would be just the ticket! Sadly, that wasn’t to be…

Before I start this review, you should know that I am undoubtedly one of the greatest wimps around – I don’t watch horror films (ever!) because I’m deeply impressionable and find myself haunted by horrid images for weeks and I rarely read properly scary books for the exact same reason. I am not difficult at all to creep out. It’s a failing, I admit but one that means I can read even marginally creepy books and find them delightfully disturbing. This book was not one of those books and I was greatly disappointed. Once I’ve decided to ignore my inner coward, I at least want to have some night-time shivers to show for it!

Adam Snow is an antiquarian bookseller that is visiting a rich client when he becomes lost and comes across the ill-fated White House and its dilapidated gardens. I started out really enjoying this book. The scene where Adam first feels the “small hand” in his is ominous and atmospheric. Eventually, though, both the fact that Adam is a bookseller and the ‘small hand’ become overdone. There isn’t a lot of time in 160 pages to build atmosphere and every time I felt the book was going somewhere, Adam disappeared on a business trip and the tone shifted and all of the tension was gone. The small hand appears out of nowhere and the pages crackle but then it’s a repeat of what has gone before…

Adam, his brother and the owner of the small hand are the centre pieces and each one of them falls a little short of what you’d hope. Adam quickly becomes whiny and self-pitying, while Hugh is that way from the start. There’s some back story there but by the time I “found it out” (some elements are obvious way before The Big Reveal), I just couldn’t summon the interest to be shocked or care. The mysterious ghostly presence starts off as unique and intriguing but it just doesn’t develop enough. I know the book is short and time for development is limited but I constantly felt that if just some of the superfluous details were cut, we’d have more time for the chills! If you’re looking for thrills and goosebumps, this disembodied hand just isn’t going to do it for you!

I think a large part of my irritation with this book also stems from the fact that the ending was half-hearted. The last quarter of the book is hinting at and dancing nimbly around a revelation that in the end only half materialises. The Big Reveal fell really flat for me. What I’d already suspected was confirmed but there were no explanations or filling in of the gaps – if anyone’s read this one, I’d love to hear what you thought and whether you were left with the same gnawing annoyance as me!

Overall: For such a short book, this has a lot of filler and details that are distracting and turn out not to be relevant. I am struggling to imagine who I would recommend this book to and suppose that’s because I wouldn’t really recommend it…The characters are only partially drawn and the ghosts are lacklustre – not one to take t0 a campfire with this Hallowe’en, if you ask me!