on September 26, 2003
The most similar book I can compare this to is The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Like that book, The Woman in Black starts peacefully and builds up to a frightening crescendo that will "haunt" you long after you put the book down. Another similarity in the books is the tremendous sense of atmosphere. Eel Marsh House, where the haunting takes place, is set off by itself in flat, bleak, marshy wetlands and is connected to drier land by a single causeway, which becomes completely covered by water when the tide is high. When the protagonist, the young and foolishly stubborn lawyer Arthur K., sets off to spend a few days sorting out old documents by himself in the isolated mansion, you just want to scream, "Are you crazy? Don't stay there overnight, you idiot!" I particularly liked the way the spectral happenings were presented. There is no blood, no gore, just a brooding sense of evil and mystery. I also enjoyed the relationships Arthur establishes with the kindly Samuel Daily, a local landowner, and the little dog Spider that Samuel lends to him to keep him company in his ill-advised sojourn to the haunted house. All in all, a wonderfully-written ghost story that would appeal to those who find Stephen King's more lurid and less subtle books a bit distasteful.
I discovered this really disturbing, truly scary ghost story just in time for Halloween. Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House" is probably the only other novel that terrified me as much as "The Woman In Black" by Susan Hill. Set in Victorian England, this atmospheric, supernatural tale of evil, terror and revenge sent chills down my spine on more than one occasion.
Ms. Hill begins her well-written narrative happily enough in the home of Arthur Kipps, who is surrounded by his loving wife and family for the Christmas holidays at their country home, Monk's Piece. Kipps is a full partner at a prestigious London law firm. Esme is his second wife. He lost his first love as a very young man. It is Christmas Eve and the grandchildren are all in bed. Their young parents, the Kipps' grown children, gather around the fire for a cozy ghost story session. At one point Kipps, obviously agitated, gets up, leaves the room and goes outside. He has hidden something significant about his past from his wife and family for years now - a tragically real ghost story of "haunting and evil, fear, confusion and horror" - of which he was a part. These events will certainly effect him all the days of his life. Kipps realizes that for his own peace of mind it is time to write his experience down and exorcise the demons, at last. He had hoped this inextricable part of his life would never have to be consciously recollected...but it is time. He decides that, at least during his lifetime, the tale will remain for his eyes only, and so he begins to write. He is our narrator.
At the very beginning of his career, many years before, Arthur Kipps, an energetic, idealistic junior solicitor was sent by his employer to attend the funeral of an elderly widow woman, Mrs. Drablow, one of the firms former clients. As the deceased owned property, including her home on the salt marshes near the town of Crythin Gifford, and had no heirs, no children or extended family, Kipps was asked to go and sort through her papers, and generally tidy-up the old woman's affairs. The Drablow manse, called Eel Marsh House, is quite isolated, situated in the middle of an estuary, connected to the mainland only by the Nine Lives Causeway, a small pathway barely visible through the marshes and quicksand, and only navigable a few hours a day. The road is underwater the rest of the time due to the strong tides.
It was at the funeral that Arthur Kipps first saw the tall, emaciated woman dressed in black. Despite his many questions to the locals, they refused to discuss the woman or address his concerns surrounding the Drabnow house, although they were extremely amiable and ready to speak out on every other topic. Suffice it to say/write that at the funeral, Kipps was the only one to see the woman in black. No one else even glimpsed what was so apparent to him. Obviously, as his work led him to spend time at Eel Marsh house, (What a creepy name!), there were to be be many more surreal episodes, each more frightening and dangerous in nature. Although these encounters are really scary, there is a mystery here also. Who is this mysterious woman...and if she is a ghost, why can she find no peace? The puzzle and ultimate denouement really left my mouth hanging open - after I let out a small scream! Good stuff, if you like to be scared...REALLY scared!
The author packs this novel with twists, turns and the unexpected at almost every turn of the page. The description of the brooding countryside, the house and surrounding marshes is at times beautiful, but always spooky. There were a few occasions when I wanted to shut my eyes - but unlike a scary movie, if one shuts one's eyes while reading, well it gets too dark to continue.
Arthur Kipps is an intelligent, level-headed man, not much given to drama or a belief in the supernatural. Thus the outright terror he experiences causes more consternation than it would coming from another character. At one point he reflects back, "It was true that the ghastly sounds I had heard through the fog had greatly upset me but far worse was what emanated from and surrounded these things and arose to unsteady me, an atmosphere, a force - I do not know exactly what to call it - of evil and uncleanness, of terror and suffering, of malevolence and bitter anger."
An excellent ghost story - little blood and gore, lots of fright. Highly recommended!
on June 17, 2002
I first saw this as a Broadway play, and it has been to this date the only theatre piece that gave me nightmares. I could not wait to read the novel, and just as the play was, it scared me senseless.
The novel plays heavily on atmosphere and mood. Susan Hill brings the black moors surrounding the Eel Marsh Hosue to life with vivid imagery. It's a "beautiful" setting for the frightening ghost that lives there. The characters are incredibly realistic and interesting to follow. You feel for Arthur Kipps in his trials and tribulations dealing with the Woman in Black in Eeel Marsh House. All in all, a wonderful ghost story that seems as if it should've been written by Jane Austen.
on January 27, 2012
'Yes, I had a story, a true story, a story of haunting and evil, fear and confusion, horror and tragedy.
Arthur Kipps is a junior solicitor from London who has been asked by his employer to attend the funeral of Mrs. Alice Drablow in Crythin Gifford. He must also visit her residence in order to collect any important paperwork that she may have been left behind. Arthur sees the woman in black at Mrs. Drablow's funeral and again at her residence at Eel Marsh House. She doesn't appear to be a malevolent spirit so Arthur doesn't worry too much and decides to spend the night at the house so that he can quickly finish his work and return to London. But that night, Arthur begins to hear unexplainable sounds and worries that he may have underestimated the woman in black.
'...piercing through the surface of my dreams, came the terrified whinnying of the pony and the crying and calling of that child over and over, while I stood, helpless in the mist, my feet held fast, my body pulled back, and while behind me, though I could not see, only sense her dark presence, hovered the woman.'
I quite enjoyed this quick little read and am glad I finally got around to reading it. I love ghost stories even though I tend to scare quite easily... and this book was no exception. The writing was beautiful and vividly creepy and definitely manages to get under your skin even though the real scary parts don't even start till the latter half of the book. The descriptions were spot on and the whole book is simply eerie even though, in thinking back to it, nothing real huge actually happens. The ghost doesn't come alive and smother him in his sleep or glue the windows shut or anything absurd like that. Nevertheless I was frightened enough to have to ask my boyfriend to walk upstairs with me to our darkened bedroom after I was finished. He still makes fun of me for that.
Enjoying it as much as I did, I still didn't give it 5 stars and the only reason for that was because of the ending. It left a bit to be desired for me and was a bit too abrupt for my liking.
on January 21, 2009
I like ghost stories that are more psychological than violent. This one fits the bill, almost. The 1st 3/4s of the book are exactly what I wanted - atmospheric, chilling, some parts actually made me put the book down for a while until my nerves settled. So why 3 stars? Thanks for asking. The ending was an enormous let down. It was telegraphed (I saw it coming before the protganist even begins recounting his story), and although tragic, it is completely missing the terror and dread of the rest of the book. To make matters worse, the logical flow of the ending actually undercuts the rest of the story. Very frustrating. If Ms. Hill had just known when to stop this would have gone on my list of great ghost stories. 4 stars for the 1st 3/4s of the book, 1 star for the ending.
Having seen the recent movie version of The Woman in Black, I decided to reread the book and compare the two on certain points. The novel by Susan Hill is a classic English gothic ghost story, and it holds up very well without all the elements, such as the dying children and the menacing villagers, which were added to the screenplay. One of the advantages that the original version possesses is that the narration places the reader inside the mind of Arthur Kipps, the young solicitor who attempts to settle the estate of the recently deceased, reclusive mistress of Eel Marsh House. In the film, viewers are led to wonder what could possibly induce Arthur to return to the house after his first frightening experiences, but the reader can follow the reasoning process that brings him back. The language is appropriately period (very early 20th century British), and Author Hill very skilfully conjured up the perfect setting for her tale, a remote house on an island that is surrounded by the sea for half of each day, accessible only when the tide is at its lowest. In the finest tradition of the genre, the hauntings do not result in anything gruesome or gory, relying instead upon the psychological power of suggestion and small, unexplained perceptions.
I enjoyed the movie with Daniel Radcliff, and was so drawn into the book that I read it all (160 pages) in one sitting. They're both entertaining and worth experiencing, and not a little creepy.