‘I should tell my tale, not aloud, by the fireside, not as a diversion for idle listeners- it was too solemn, and too real, for that. But I should set it down on paper, with every care and in every detail. I would write my own ghost story.’
A Brief Overview
(This review does not contain specific spoilers as to what happens at the end of the book)
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill was written in 1983, but follows the events in the life of narrator Arthur Kipps in what we are led to believe as being late 19th/early 20th century England (although this is never actually confirmed). Its traditional gothic, haunted setting leads to the central character Arthur looking back on past events in the small village of Crythin Gifford, where he was sent to settle the affairs of the recently deceased Alice Drablow. He soon begins to realise, however, that the rumours surrounding Eel Marsh House may be more than just that as he begins to experience ghostly happenings and witnesses sights that are beyond his logical, rational way of thinking.
Why I Decided to Read It
When I go about immersing my self in a world that contains both book and film versions, I almost always opt for the book first. However, with the Woman In Black this wasn’t the case as I had previously seen and loved not only the film directed by James Watkins and starring Daniel Radcliffe, but had also seen and loved the stage production. From there it just seemed like a natural progression to move on to the book (this was also helped by the fact that the cover of the edition I bought is beautiful!)
I began the book immediately drawn into the setting on a cold Christmas Eve, where an older Arthur sat listening to the chatter of his step-grandchildren discussing ghost stories. His unease seemed very apparent, which led on to his account of what happened to him on his stay in Crythin Gifford on a lawyer’s business. The most noticeable thing, to me, was the amount of imagery that Susan Hill managed to pack into seemingly very small amounts of text. In particular, the descriptions of the village on market day and the endless expanses of marshland surrounding Eel Marsh house had my mind racing with images of the place. The ancient Gothic manor house and its foreboding surroundings of a ruined monastery and marshes that constantly replay tragic events don’t make it hard for the reader to picture. She has a way of describing scenery to perfectly reflect the atmosphere; most noticeably with massive amounts of pathetic fallacy! The only problem I encountered with this, was that soon the story became somewhat repetitive, with descriptions of the weather featuring heavily in a large amount of the chapters without much variation. Another factor that I found was re-used too often was Arthur being traumatised by the events within the house, but seemingly managing to forget about it soon after. As a character, I feel as though the events would have affected him for a greater period of time whilst within the village.
Despite this, Hill manages to create a feeling of tension and fear very dramatically, and even had me jumping when I heard a sound whilst reading the book! Also, the rocking chair scenario becomes very unnerving, to a point where as a reader you are simply willing Arthur to get as far away from the house as possible because ultimately, you do care what happens to him.
I did find my rating for this book to be dropping slightly as there is a distinct lack of resolution to the situation, however I had a change of heart upon reading the ending. Having seen film and stage adaptations I was not aware that I could be shocked by the events but somehow I was, and I felt as though the ending helped to tie in with the chilling atmosphere throughout the book and helped the reader to empathise even more with the central character. This leads on to my saying that of the three, I could not choose a favourite between the book, the film or the stage adaptation. All are very different in a variety of ways and all build up tension in their own ways and therefore I would have to go ahead and just recommend all three!
Overall, I gave The Woman in Black by Susan Hill four out of five stars, based upon the fact that this book, despite being quite the generic Gothic horror tale, was captivating in terms of the twist at the end, the detailed settings and the character of Arthur.