Book Review: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

the-woman-in-black-front-cover[This review may contain spoilers]

The Woman in Black was my 2016 Halloween read, and my, was it a great choice.

Arthur Kipps works for a London law firm that is in charge of the estate of one Mrs Alice Drablow.  On her death, Kipps is sent to her home, Eel Marsh House, Crythin Gifford, in the middle of a mist-filled nowhere surrounded by marsh, to go through her papers to ensure that all is in order.

However, as soon as he arrives in the small agricultural town, it becomes apparent that this is not the easy, fun task he thought it would be.  This is not some leisurely, country jaunt.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite and it all begins with the glimpsing of a strange woman dressed in black at the funeral of Alice Drablow, a woman no one will talk to him about.  As an outsider with no knowledge of the local history, he has no idea what his sighting portends…

The Woman in Black is a psychological ghost story that spends its time building up to a very creepy atmosphere, one that is heightened by that which isn’t said rather than that which is.  The not knowing what everyone else knows is certainly a clever way of increasing tension within the narrative.  Only once it is deemed that Arthur Kipps has witnessed enough himself, will anyone reveal anything to him.

I’m not often spooked by spooky things, but there were a few times reading this that I felt chilled to the bone.  The use of repetition, in particular, was very creepy, both in terms of describing sound, but also in the theme.  Not only is Eel Marsh House haunted, but so is Kipps, by his experience.

The downsides to this book were few and minor, and perhaps only recalled because the rest of the book was just so good.  The ending felt very abrupt compared to the slow-burn of the majority of the story, and yet the final words are almost harrowing in their bluntness:

They asked for my story.  I have told it.  Enough.

There was also a little puzzle of an inscription that didn’t make sense to me, and I wish that it expressly stated when the story was set though it definitely had the feel of a Victorian Gothic ghost story to it.

The positives far outweighed the negative, and included that the setting was perfect for this type of story and really captured the essence of Victorian Gothic spookiness.  The characters also helped in crafting the narrative into a piece of chilling literature.  One of my favourites was the brave dog, Spider, whose fearlessness juxtaposed well the feelings of terror experienced by Kipps, which again, served to increase the tension.  The author is a great storyteller and says just enough to make you wonder, to keep you reading.

The Woman in Black was a great read, one that I am certain I will return to, and often, in the future.  If you enjoy ghost stories or are looking for a fitting tale to read one cold, dark night, this would be a very good choice.  Also, if you would like to try you hand a writing a ghost story, this book illustrates well how to successfully accomplish it.


5 thoughts on “Book Review: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

  1. Pingback: Sammi Loves Books – Year in Review 2016 | Sammi Loves Books

  2. That was exactly why I read it, to get a better feel for how to write my haunted house story, and boy, it’s a great reference for that! Having just read and reviewed this book myself, I agree with all the pros and cons you mentioned. I had forgotten the last words though; you’re right, they’re very good. Definitely a great Halloween book — I’m sure I’ll be returning to it again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading, Joy, and thanks for the recommendation 🙂

      I think the next book in the same vein as this that I will give a go is The Turn of the Screw, which I remember watching as a TV drama as a teenager and it spooked the hell out of me. I’ve never read the book though…hopefully that will be worth a read.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have a review on GoodReads of “Turn of the Screw” too, although I just glanced at my book review notes and see that I have a very much longer review just for myself that I thought had too many spoilers to post on GoodReads. I’d be happy to share that with you, *after* you’ve read it, to get your reaction.

        Liked by 1 person

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