Review: ‘The Woman in Black’ by Susan Hill
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Proud and solitary, Eel Marsh House surveys the windswept reaches of the salt marshes beyond Nine Lives Causeway. Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor, is summoned to attend the funeral Mrs Alice Drablow, the house’s sole inhabitant, unaware of the tragic secrets which lie hidden behind the shuttered windows. It is not until he glimpses a wasted young woman, dressed all in black, at the funeral, that a creeping sense of unease begins to take hold, a feeling deepened by the reluctance of the locals to talk of the woman in black – and her terrible purpose.
Ah, young solicitors sent to great huge mansions by your apparently benevolent bosses, when will you learn? Thankfully for the literary world, never.
As a proper gothic ghost story should be, though, this is less about the characters and more about the setting and what they experience. Kipps, however, is as good a narrator as you could ask for. The unravelling of his objective, legally-trained mind is well-paced and realistic. I think one of my favourite things about the book was how well Hill blended those touches of realism with the paranormal. Who hasn’t had the occasional moment in the night where something sets you on edge and, even though you know it will more likely than not be something perfectly normal in the morning, at the time, everything seems sinister? Just me? Ok…Regardless, the way Kipp tried to hold on to his version of reality in the daylight hours was a nice touch and he was just how I like my narrators. No running around flapping and panicking but equally no getting all gung-ho and toting exorcism equipment about the place. Just good old-fashioned rational thought and a scared man’s attempts to take charge over the situation.
While I really liked Kipps, I couldn’t say the same for many of the other characters. I suppose that’s unfair seeing as they aren’t really characters as much as plot devices but I find all the foreshadowing a touch too much – we already have a tormented future version of the main character and a fidgety boss who’s clearly hiding something. I’m not sure that everybody Kipps then met needed to warn him about the bad things that were coming his way if he carried on. It’s a small gripe, I know. I’m clutching at straws to try and be balanced! Forgive me…
Date finished: 26 November 2011
Genre: Ghost story; Horror
Published: My edition – by Vintage in November 2007; Originally – 1983