The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

I saw the film of The Woman in Black a couple of years ago, in fact it was the first scary film I ever saw at the cinema. I enjoyed the film but I hated Daniel Radcliffe in the part of Arthur Kipps; he simply wasn’t old enough or believable in the role. Four years later I found the novel in The Book Barn on Wells Rd, Bristol (UK) – the most magical place on earth where all second hand books cost £1 and where I thoroughly recommend going if you want to spend a whole day exploring dusty bookshelves.

The Woman in Black

The main reason I wanted to read this, in the same way I read Life and Laughing because I’d never read a funny book, was because I’ve never read a scary book. I wanted to know whether I could actually be scared by ink on paper. Somehow I didn’t believe it could have anything like the same affect a film can have. I suppose I was sort of right but sort of wrong. A book can’t be jumpy; a face can’t come out of nowhere. It’s very difficult to create surprise in a text, even with expertly crafted short sentences and clever punctuation, it’s just too slow to be jumpy. As a result, it is a different kind of fear that’s used in this book. This book is creepy. It’s ‘heartstoppingly chilling’ as the front cover of the book tells me.

There are the two things I most admired about The Woman in Black:

  1. The writing was excellent. The descriptions are incomparable to any book I can think of. The language itself invokes fear – the talk of the fog creeping along the marshes and the thunder storms that rage through the wintery nights, the woman with the wasted face and the feelings of intense grief and despair that surround Eel Marsh House. You’d think the old fashioned language would distance the reader from the material but in fact it is so engaging the language makes this book; it’s absorbing and powerful to the utmost degree.
  2. The fear is subtle. I always think that scary works best the less you know and the less you see. There is no gore in The Woman in Black, there are no ridiculous monsters or clichéd creaky doors; the horror in this novel comes from something very simple – feelings. Initially Arthur Kipps feels that something is wrong from the way the townsfolk cower from any mention of the house (most distinctly Mr Jerome’s break down at the mention of the woman in black in the graveyard at Mrs Drablow’s funeral) and then from the god-forsaken nature of the house itself. I mean, the book says it itself, what better location for a haunting than an isolated, nigh inaccessible mansion surrounded by mud and marshes where thick fog is known to settle? Obviously as the book progresses Arthur Kipps hears strange things and a few inexplicable events occur but still the fear is kept subtle.

This was a quick read but I feel I got a lot out of it. Perhaps not all horror books are the same (The Shining is going on my reading list as a comparative horror) but I was interested by Susan Hill’s take on the genre. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and to be frank, at a mere 160 pages you’d be silly not to give it a go. Happy reading!

P.S I should just mention that the plot of the novel and the plot of the film are VERY different. The film makes up a lot of extra content presumably just to fill space as the book is so short. The book is better. Read the book – hint hint.

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2 thoughts on “The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

  1. Great review. 🙂 I enjoyed the movie because of its atmosphere; I didn’t like Radcliff either but maybe that was because of my incompetence to grow over his Harry Potter character.

    If you want a dark horror book, then I would suggest you read The Dark Half by Stephen King. The Shining is not horror as much as it is a psychological thriller. It has a very creepy build-up, and I love it for it. Pet Sematary is also fine, but I didn’t enjoy it all that much, it’s good, but it’s not Stephen King good. 🙂

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