The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

15 October, 2010

You must have all heard of The Woman in Black, right? I first came across it when I saw an advert for the play. A stage play that will scare the living daylights out of you, it said. I’ve been wanting to see it for years. I only recently realised that it was based on a book by Susan Hill. I’m a big fan of Hill’s mystery series featuring Simon Serrailler and had no idea she wrote spooky stuff too. I missed the trend last year when a lot of bloggers were reading her books for Halloween so I’m finally catching up. And I saved it especially for R.I.P. V.

I love reading supernatural/gothic/vampire/werewolf stories which don’t really frighten me and LOVE talking about real-life ghost stories. I get the occasional urge to go and watch a horror film but when I do, I’m frightened out of my wits and scream like a banshee. Lucky I don’t have nightmares, is all I can say. But I don’t read much to get scared. I read more for the gothic and mystery elements of the story. So I thought I ought to remedy this since it’s the spooky season and it’s getting suitably chilly. I figured that since this is my first scary story of the year, I’ll read it during the day. I’m a wuss, I can live with that.

For a slim book, The Woman in Black certainly packs a spine-chilling punch. Its Victorian gothic tone was perfect, her prose sparse yet furnishing enough detail that you are instantly transported into the life of Arthur Kipps, the solicitor from London, whose tale this is. I really, really loved this book. It’s an old-fashioned ghost story that is immensely readable, never boring and quite chilling. If you like to be scared, I suggest you read it at night, in bed, with only a dim candle as company.

Arthur Kipps is the young solicitor who is set the task of going through the papers of the recently deceased Mrs. Drablow. He travels up north from London and stays in a small village close to Eel Marsh House which can only be reached at low tide. From the beginning it becomes clear that something is not quite right. The villagers clam up when Kipps asks about Mrs. Drablow and her house. No one wants to help him or even go near the place. At Mrs. Drablow’s funeral, Kipps spies another mourner, a woman dressed in black. Her face is wasted as though she has some lingering disease and she is dressed in a quaint fashion. When he looks for her, she is gone. And when he asks after her, he is met by fear. Who is this lady? And why won’t people tell him what’s going on? You’ll have to read this to find out!

Hill certainly knows how to set the mood: brooding, dark, grey and windy. With each page, your heart rate increases and I was in a perpetual state of apprehension as I read the tale. I think what makes it even more chilling is that she begins the tale with a description of a festive and familial Christmas, yule logs burning, a gorgeous feast, presents under the tree. It’s all so warm and glowing and then she cuts to this ghostly tale. Instantly you feel the cold, the whispering wind, battering rain, everything that makes you want to run inside and shut the door. Hill feeds you bits and pieces of information at a time, making you want to turn the pages to find out more. I must admit that the revelations didn’t surprise me all that much as I’ve read enough supernatural tales to have a decent stab at a guess. However, the suspense is wonderful and I guarantee that you’ll feel a chill.

Now I suppose I’ll have to see the play to get the living daylights frightened out of me. And there’s also a film version in production starring Daniel Radcliffe aka Harry Potter to look forward to next year.

Have you read this? Did you find it scary?

19 Responses to “The Woman in Black by Susan Hill”

  1. Verity Says:

    I found it so scary that I woke up in the middle of the night, convinced that the wardrobe had turned into a hooded black dressed woman!

  2. Iris Says:

    I must be the one exception because I had not heard about Susan Hill until I came across another post on her new book yesterday. I think I need to read something by her soon and this seems to be the best-known of her books.

  3. Gavin Says:

    I’ve read other books by Hill. Thanks for your introduction to this one.

  4. Fence Says:

    Sounds very similar in style to The Small Hand so I really really must pick it up.

  5. Nymeth Says:

    I’ve actually read this very recently, so I’m going to wait until I’ve written my review to come back and fully read yours. But in the meantime, I can tell you that while I didn’t find it exactly scary, I absolutely loved the atmosphere!

  6. Mystica Says:

    Yes I read and no I did not find it scary. I was also disappointed in the book. After all the hype I expected more. But, since the author gets such good reviews I thought I maybe had missed the wood fromthe trees sort of and went back to another book and that I liked very much. I’ve reviewed both books on my blog.

  7. Violet Says:

    I didn’t find this at all scary, but Hill does create a great sense of suspense, and like you, I kept turning the pages to see what happened next.

  8. Melissa Says:

    I had no idea this was a book. I saw the play in London in 2005 and it was incredibly creepy.

  9. Helen Says:

    I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time but haven’t got round to it yet. My friend has been to see the play and she said it was very scary!

  10. amymckie Says:

    I’d never heard of this book before, but it does sound scary!

  11. Melody Says:

    It is creepy, but what I loved most about the book is it’s very atmospheric!

  12. chasing bawa Says:

    I have to say I agree with most of you and didn’t find it scary, however I did feel creeped out. Hill does a brilliant job in building atmosphere. I suspect the play and film versions will probably frighten me more!

  13. Heather Says:

    I loved this book. While I didn’t find it exactly scary, I did find it rather creepy. You should read Hill’s book The Man in the Picture. It’s very short, but equally chilling!

  14. Kailana Says:

    I saw another review of Susan Hill today and now I am thinking I need to try her for curiousity-sake…

  15. wordjunkie Says:

    Hi. Just discovered your blog. This book sounds like The Blair Witch Project.. not very scary on viewing, but destined to creep you out for a long while after.

    I recently read Hill’s book ‘The Shadows in the Street’ and must confess, was rather disappointed. But this, and The Man in the Picture sound very promising.

  16. chasing bawa Says:

    Kailana: Definitely!

    wordjunkie: I’m actually thinking the play/film version of The Woman in Black will be much scarier just because there will be the added effects of sound and music. Looking forward to seeing them! I haven’t read any other ghost stories by Hill but plan to.

  17. Nish Says:

    It’s been ages since I read anything scary. I must look this one up.

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