Book Review: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

9825955Title: The Woman in Black

Author: Susan Hill

Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Ghosts, Horror

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, but warms the soul with plot, perception, and language at once astute and vivid? In other words, a ghost story written by Jane Austen?

Alas, we cannot give you Austen, but Susan Hill’s remarkable Woman In Black comes as close as our era can provide. Set on the obligatory English moor, on an isolated causeway, the story has as its hero Arthur Kipps, an up-and-coming young solicitor who has come north from London to attend the funeral and settle the affairs 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 deserted nursery, the eerie sound of a 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 this neglected genre, the ghost story, isn’t dead after all.

The Woman in Black is an example of sharp, clever writing and brilliant prose. Susan Hill knows words like no other, and she manages to play with words and sentences in a way only experienced writers can. I’ve been wanting to pick up The Woman in Black for a while, mostly because it reminds me of gothic horror novels I devoured as a kid, and because I heard of its unique, reminiscent of older works, writing style. I was not disappointed.

The story is  set in the English moor, and features an abandoned and dilipidated house. Arthur Kipps, our hero, is an up-and-coming young sollicitor who came all the way north from London to attend the funeral of Mrs. Alice Drablow, former mistress of Eel Marsh House. But as soon as he finds his way to the mansion, an unsettling sensation takes hold of him, and he figures the Eel Marsh House may host more mysteries than he at first suspected. Something sinister is waiting in those ancient corners, and something dark and threatening lurks from the shadows.

I love myself a good ghost story, and if anything, this certainly is a ghost story. Mrs. Hill has most definitely impressed me, and I look forward to reading more of her work.


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