Friday, March 30, 2012

Review: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

By this point in time, your average ghost story has become fairly predictable. Person visits house, things move around by themselves and scary noises happen, person finally flees the house in terror. Ghost still lurks about in a creepy manner.

And Susan Hill goes by formula. Yet, somehow, she still manages to make it fresh and make it scary.

Our narrator, Arthur Kipps, is enjoying Christmas with his wife and grown up children. But as they begin telling ghost stories around the fire, he is hit with an anxiety attack and must go outside to recover. It is after this he decides to tell his tale, in order to lay his demons to rest once and for all.

As a young man, Arthur, a solicitor, traveled to the small village of Crythin Gifford to attend the funeral of a client, an elderly woman named Mrs. Drablow. He must also gather her important documents from her house, a creaky old thing sitting on a causeway in the middle of the marsh. However, from the moment he arrives, he can tell something is wrong, and that the people are deathly afraid of anything connected with Eel Marsh House. And then he begins seeing this woman in black…

As I said before, as far as ghost stories go, this one seems pretty formulaic. You guess what’s going on long before the end, yet Hill manages to deliver all the same. Part of this is atmosphere. Hill manages the atmosphere and setting of her book with great skill. You can feel the isolation on the marsh and the disorientation when the fog rolls in. The image of a silent group of children watching the woman in black is particularly chilling.

And best of all, right at the very end Hill decides to break formula. The twist is absolutely gut-wrenching, yet, looking back, it comes as no surprise at all.

I give this a 3.5 out 5.

Now go watch the trailer for the movie and tell me you don’t get the shivers from it.

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