October 28, 2011

Book Review: THE WOMAN IN BLACK: A GHOST STORY by Susan Hill

BOOK DESCRIPTION:  What real reader does not yearn, somewhere in the recesses of his or her heart, for a really literate, first-class thriller: one that chills the body with foreboding of dark deeds to come, but warms the soul with perceptions and language at once astute and vivid? In other words, a ghost story by Jane Austen.

Austen we cannot, alas, give you, but Susan Hill's remarkable The Woman In Black comes as close as the late twentieth century is likely to provide. Set on the obligatory English moor, on an isolated causeway, the story's hero is Arthur Kipps, an up-and-coming young solicitor who has come north to attend the funeral and settle the estate of Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. The routine formalities he anticipates give way to a tumble of events and secrets more sinister and terrifying than any nightmare: the rocking chair in the nursery of the deserted Eel Marsh House, the eerie sound of pony and trap, a child's scream in the fog, and, most dreadfully, and for Kipps most tragically, the woman in black.

The Woman In Black is both a brilliant exercise in atmosphere and controlled horror and a delicious spine-tingler-proof positive that that neglected genre, the ghost story, isn't dead after all.

The Woman in Black is a good old fashioned ghost story, with slowly building tension and all out atmosphere.  Reading this book left me feeling chilled, as if I had been on the moor myself. 

Horror lovers will rejoice over The Woman in Black but don't expect a book chock full of action, gore and/or monsters.  You will find none of that here.  What you will find is an intriguing story, with the weather and the house being as much characters as the self-titled Woman in Black herself. 

This isn't a fast paced book as the story and tension builds with relatively quiet precision.  Impatient readers may have a difficult time giving The Woman in Black a chance but it is well worth the dedication.  I myself found the book to be a slow starter, so spoiled I have been by Dean Koontz/Bentley Little/John Saul, et al. whose many books start off with a bang.  The Woman in Black is more like a measured sizzle, with cracks and pops throughout, until the burn at the end.  Although I had guessed somewhat how the story would end it didn't take away from the overall excellence of the story.  

Interestingly enough, I found thinking back on the story - - the eerie sounds, the rocking chair moving on its own, the woman in black's appearance - - after I had finished it more chilling than when I was reading it.

I would recommend The Woman in Black for those readers who want a more old fashioned horror story, those who don't want vampires, werewolves, zombies and the like, and who don't care to read about serial killers.  It's a quick read and one you won't regret.

The Woman in Black is available for purchase at major booksellers now, including Amazon.  I am an Amazon affiliate. If you make a purchase through my link, I will receive a small commission.

FTC Disclosure: This book was borrowed from my local public library. I was neither compensated nor paid in any way for this review. 

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