The woman in black – Susan Hill.
This book has always appeared on lists of the scariest books of all time. As much as I enjoy reading, rarely have I ever been scared reading one. In fact I can only remember one instance when I was very young and that was only because a coat fell off a chair as I was reading a dark scene.
With the film being advertised every few minutes on TV at the moment, I decided to see what all the fuss was about.
The woman in black is about a young lawyer (Arthur Kipps) sent to a remote village to set the orders of a house (Eel Marsh) in place after the elderly woman that resided there (Mrs Drablow) had passed away. As you might imagine, what should be a routine task turns out to be far more frightful and terrifying.
All the typical “scare” techniques are used here, but they are done very well. The ghostly sightings are not overly done or dramatic, but they do create sense on unease. Arthur is disturbed by what goes on, and although he tries to rationalise what he has experienced, Susan Hill is careful not to dwell on pages of pages of procrastination.
The most successful horror elements are portrayed by Arthur’s interaction with the other residents of the village. They are reluctant to talk to him or keen to be away from the house. This all creates a sense of mystery and frustration for Mr. Kipps and adds to his unease. Arthur is given a dog called, “Spider” to accompany him and it is when the dog reacts to an unseen foe that the tension really escalates.
Susan Hill also utilises the changes in the weather across the marshes to really add to the atmosphere of the book. Fog closes in swiftly and is oppressive adding to the sense of claustrophobia.
The woman in black is too short (192 pages), to really make you afraid. Whilst I like my ghost stories short, I felt too much time was focussed on Arthur Kipps travelling the house and not enough on actually dwelling in the house.
The plot behind the mystery is well thought out and actually quite good. Arthur behaves in a rational way at all times which is refreshing. There is no teen horror, “running up the stairs rather than out of the house here.” The ending is good. Really good in fact. You know from how the book starts that certain things have to happen, but throughout you are wondering how they get to that stage. The explanation does not disappoint. My rating: 8.0