* Prices may differ from that shownMore Offers
I have just finished reading The Woman in Black by Susan Hill, before I start this I should say I don't normally read ghost stories, but this one had come recommended by my dad, and was lent to me by him. I haven't yet seen the film. So what did I think?
The story is told by the main character, Arthur Kipps, who following some christmas eve ghost stories with his family is reminded of some long suppressed memories. Having never recovered properly from the events Kipps decides to write down his memories of what happened. The memories surround a visit he had to make to a deceased clients house to settle her affairs when he was a young solicitor, the house in good ghost story tradition is set on it's own between a marsh and an estuary, and is only accessible at low tide across a causeway. To add to Kipps woes is a village full of nervous superstitious people, and the mysterious woman in black of the title, so what will happen to Kipp?, well if you don't want to read the book to find out there's always the film :).
So how did I find this story, within a story? Well to be honest at first I found it pretty hard going, the style of writing in the book is pretty old fashioned, it actually reminded me of the style of "Wuthering Heights", although this being a more modern book published in 1983 I assume the style was deliberate, but for me I just felt it made it harder to get into the book. This is quite a short book, only 200 pages, but it felt like it was taking forever to read, and I would say it was only the last four chapters that I actually managed at any kind of pace. The first half of the book I was only reading a couple of pages a day before getting bored and putting it down, it was only the fact it was recommended and I'd decided to write a review about it that made me persevere.
That said for me this was a book of two halves, and the second half (or last third) was quite creepy. The story as a whole is good, I can see what has made it a successful film, and tv programme, as well as a stage play, although for me Kipp as a character didn't draw me into the story enough to make me care what had happened to him. It's kind of hard to explain as the book is well written with a good story, it was I think just the style that put me off.
After finishing the book I did feel I had enjoyed the book, and I can see that the slow start is part of the build up to make the story creepier, but for me I think it's only 3 stars, it was ok but I wouldn't read it again, that said I think I might watch the film.
Despite some initial reservations, I have to concede Susan Hill's novella soon had me hooked. The opening pages struck me as a pastiche of Henry James or the M.R. James school of traditional English ghost story but, having brought the paperback on holiday with me, I decided to persevere. As the plot unfolded, it actually turned out to be a real chiller. I was glad I'd packed it.
The book was first published nearly thirty years ago and a stage version has so far had a twenty two year run in the West End, starting to rival 'The Mousetrap'. It was only when a film version was finally released earlier this year to some critical acclaim that I noticed this lying on our bookshelf, bought some time ago on a whim but still unread. I'm not sure how this escaped me as the London show has been running all that time at the Fortune Theatre, which coincidentally happens to be right next to the church where we got married in Covent Garden. Still, better late than never...
Maybe I was just in holiday mood, suspending normal critical faculties, but I actually quite enjoyed this. It's quite sparsely narrated, with less than 200 pages. The plot held my attention for just long enough, the atmosphere was remarkably foreboding and, to my surprise, I found myself quite caught up in the suspense as the pace gathered after the first chapter.
The sense of time and place is fairly imprecise, but this seemed a broadly successful attempt at a classic ghost/horror story, in a bygone English rural setting and a creepy old country house. All the ingredients are there, including unpredictable sea fogs ('frets') that roll in across the marshes, graveyards and, of course, the isolated Eel Marsh House only accessible via a tidal causeway. But it's the malevolent presence of the eponymous Woman in Black that really catches the imagination. What is her terrible secret?
The story is told in the first person of young solicitor, Arthur Kipps, sent to attend the funeral and deal with the affairs of the recently deceased reclusive Alice Drablow, sole resident of Eel Marsh House. His sense of foreboding is well conveyed, from his arrival at the village of Crythin Gifford with its taciturn inhabitants, their air of superstition, and his first encounter with the spectral Woman in Black.
Slightly hackneyed perhaps as a narrative device, but quite effective nevertheless, the tale is told on Christmas Eve years later to a cosy family gathering. The domestic setting contrasts nicely with the unsettling gothic atmosphere of the main story.
Suffice it to say, this is basically 'just' a classic ghost story, set around the turn of last century. For me it's the sparse descriptions and brevity that really make it succeed: less is more!
Without giving too much away, I found the ending slightly disappointing, somewhat predictable and a decidedly cheerless twist to a dark tale. Nevertheless, this is still an enjoyable ghost/horror story, told in the traditional manner. It will probably appeal to anyone who enjoys classic English ghost stories.
The woman in black
~~Availability and price~~
Paperback currently available from Amazon: £3.86
Kindle edition: £3.74
Audiobook also available as CD or download
[© SteveS001 2012. A version of this original review may appear on other review sites]
Last night, after spending three years on my bookcase, I finally got round to finishing Susan Hill's 'The Woman in Black.' After seeing the film adaptation starring Daniel Radcliffe, I was eager to finish the book I had started so long ago. For anyone who has not seen the film or read the book, it is the tragic story of a young lawyer who is sent to Eel Marsh House to sort through the papers of the late Mrs. Drablow. While he is there, he experiences many unexplained events and is haunted by the ghost of a woman in black - a woman whose presence leads to deadly results.
The book is wonderfully written. You find yourself being drawn into the experiences of the narrator until you begin to feel on edge yourself - something that not many books manage to achieve. The book less than two hundred pages long and with something gripping happening in every chapter (roughly ten pages long) you can't help but wanting to read chapter after chapter in one sitting.
I was amazed at how true to the book the film really is. Often filmmakers take advantage and turn the story into something completely different, but in this case it is not true at all. Admittedly the film does introduce the underlying story much sooner to keep the action going, but it still holds on to the essence of the book. The film also uses the advantage of visual and audio effects to build up the suspense to create scenes where the audience cannot help but jump out of their seat...even if you think you can predict what is coming!
The main difference between the book and the film that I encountered was the ending. The film leaves the audience with complete closure and, what could almost be interpreted as a happy ending in the reunion of the lovers and the expelling of the ghost. However, the book offers no real conclusion to the story, somehow making it scarier, as you are still left with questions at the end, which keeps you thinking about the book a long time after you have finished it.
Overall, I found that both the book and the film are wonderful examples of a truly gripping ghost story. The book is a completely unique concept that, even for those who have seen the film, offers something very new and will keep you wanting to read more. The film offers an interpretation of the book that is very true to it, while offering something that people who had already read the book wouldn't expect. I would strongly recommend both reading the book and watching the film, as even though they tell the same story, they are wonderfully unique.
The Woman in Black is an extremely chilling yet one of those books that you just can't put down until you reach the end!
The story tells of Arthur Kipps, a young solicitor who is sent to Eel Marsh House to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow, and to deal with her affairs in the following days.
As the book progresses you begin to sense that all is not quite as it seems at Eel Marsh House, and as the story progresses through a series of twists & turns, you really feel that you are experiencing the ghostly encounters alongside Arthur during the days that he spends alone at the deserted house.
At the climax of the book you discover that not only does the Woman in Black haunt Arthur, she also has a much more disturbing impact on his life than anyone could imagine.
Susan Hill has written this book with just the right amount of suspense, intrigue & power, and the final few pages are genuinely spine-tingling.
The story begins with the main character, Arthur Kipps, struggling over the choice whether to tell his family his story. After agonising over the decision to write it down or not, he decides he will.
And it's a ghost story.
Mrs. Drablow is dead, and the young upcoming solicitor has been sent to sort out her affairs and documents (quite similar to the main character from Dracula in this respect). When Arthur arrives at the town of Crythin Gifford he is pleased by the pleasant calm and familiarity of the towns inhabitants. However, after describing his business at the Inn he is staying in, the locals begin to avoid him and warn him against going to the remote homeplace of the deceased Mrs. Drablow... Eel Marsh House.
Kipps, being a rational man committed to becoming a partner in the law firm, goes anyway. Once there, he finds that the house is only accessible through a lengthy causeway in the marshes, which is completely underwater in some parts of the day. At night, the path is covered by the tide and a thick fog that means leaving by carriage is impossible.
But for the first night, there are no problems, except maybe the mysteriously locked door at the end of the upstairs corridor, and he decides that the fear of the towns inhabitants must just come from local superstition.
Then, at the funeral of Mrs. Drablow, he sees the Woman in Black. As the mystery of the woman develops before him, Arthur learns that there's more to the house than meets the eye, and nothing in Crythin Gifford is quite what it seems.
When the Woman In Black takes an interest in Arthur, he finds himself unable to continue rationalising the terrifying events that follow...
Susan Hill's novel is completely gripping, from start to finish. Her character development, although a little unbelievable at times, is accomplished very well and the gradual change in Kipps's character is excellent. The descriptions of Arthur's experiences and the appearance of the woman are very atmospheric, as is the isolated setting of the house in the marshes. She uses common, solid themes from the Gothic genre and adapts them well to her story.
There are few main characters, and the book revolves soley around Kipps - unfortunately, this means that other characters you'd like to see more of are a little overlooked and unexplained.
Written in the early 1970's, the Woman In Black reads like it comes from an earlier period - the style has all the characteristics of a turn of the century gothic novel. It's an excellent way of delivering the story, and Hill adapts to this style seamlessly.
As previously said, the only negative thing I can think of is that Kipps' continued desire to rationalise events does become slightly unbelievable further into the book, but the story is imaginative enough for that not to be much of a significant problem.
Pricewise, it's a fairly cheap book. My copy is pretty thin and cost £3.99 from Borders and it's likely to be a similar price elsewhere.
If you enjoy reading a more chilling type of story, this is one I would definitely recommend to you. Plus, it is a short novel that you really could read in one exciting session.
This is about the play, based on this novel. When the play opened, I was uncertain that I was going to enjoy it. It started off in a way that made me think, ”Oh no, this is awful!”. However, the beginning is just one twist in a series that keeps you in suspense until the very end. The play is billed as a two-hander, i.e. there should only be two actors in the play all the way through. Spot the extra as the play progresses! It concerns a solicitor, Arthur Kipps, a man attempting to exorcise a nightmare he lived through by setting it down as a story to be read to anyone who will listen. He enlists the help of a younger actor, who loses patience with the reading, and suggests that as they happen to be in a theatre, they should act it out. So this actor takes the part of the solicitor and Arthur Kipps plays all the other parts. Obviously, the role taxes the actor playing Arthur Kipps tremendously, I have seen it played by Barry Stanton and Edward Petherbridge, and both were incredible. The set appears to be very simple, and then slowly turns into a lonely mansion through the aid of gauze, lighting effects and an exceptional back stage team. At one point they do a scene change whilst you are watching the two actors, and I had absolutely no idea it was going on! It is scary; there are real “scream” moments – quite literally. At one, the whole audience cried out, and laughed nervously because they all did it together! It is not blood thirsty, just a genuine build up of tension in a claustrophobic atmosphere. I highly recommend this play, but be warned it is not for younger children, or the faint of heart!
Proud and solitary, Eel Marsh House surveys the windswept reaches of the salt marshes. Arthur Kipps, a young solicitor summoned to funeral, has no inkling of its tragic secret or of the mysterious black-robed woman who haunts its shuttered rooms.