Stay Alive – Simon Kernick

Stay Alive, as the cover tells me, is written by ‘the number one bestselling author’ Simon Kernick. This gave me doubts from the very first moment, and as it turns out, my gut instinct was right.

The thing about bestsellers is that they’re almost always appallingly written. In order for them to be read by the masses they need to be simple enough for anybody to handle. They need to be accessible for that person who only reads one book a year, which offers no challenge to those who read dozens. The plots are predictable, the use of language is at times laughable and the grammar is invariably off.

This book was recommended to me but the problem with that is that everyone has completely different tastes. Perhaps I’m a book snob after three years studying Literature at University but I was hoping for something better.

Stay Alive Simon Kernick

Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. SPOILER ALERT.

My biggest problem with this book was the utterly ridiculous storyline. ‘The Disciple’ (who thought of that name?) is murdering couples all over Surrey, so when cheating husband George and his lover Ivana are found dead in their home it’s pretty obvious where the investigation leads. Except this plot isn’t obvious; it’s all over the place. There is a pedophile living in the woods, a murderous Grannie, and who thought escape via canoe was a good idea? At times I wondered whether this book was supposed to fall into the category of black comedy since it reminded me greatly of the film ‘Hot Fuzz’, what with the extreme gore and the complete and utter bad luck the protagonists seemed to have. However, judging from the other thrillers Simon Kernick has written and the reviews online this is clearly not the case, which is kind of a shame; I think I would have enjoyed it more had the humour been intended.

The next problem was the choice of language. This was perhaps one of the things that steered me into the direction of thinking it was intentionally comedic. Take this sentence for instance: ‘Jess would never forget the slightly confused expression in Jean’s eyes in the half-second before they closed and she toppled heavily in her seat, falling sideways so that her ruined head hung over the side of the canoe, grey hair hanging down towards the water as if she was leaning in to wash her hair’. Never before has an atmosphere been so completely obliterated by a simile. Well done Simon Kernick, that takes some doing.

Then there’s the repetition. In my three years of Creative Writing classes one of the things they really drill into you is to never say anything twice. Pick the best way of saying something and run with it; never repeat yourself. Simon Kernick could have benefitted from a class or two at UEA because he explains everything to his readers at least twice. Perhaps he assumes we are all a little hard of understanding but the beautiful thing about books is that they are written documents, meaning it is possible to flick back through if you ever want to reread or check anything. Someone please explain the concept of writing to him. (Am I being a bit harsh?)

My final problem with this novel is the sheer amount of characters. It is 420 pages long, I’ll give it that, so you would think there would be space for a fair amount of characters but Stay Alive has millions. Ok, 32 to be precise, but that’s insane, especially as there is very little to differentiate between the millions of cops and corrupt ex cops (other than their morals). It wasn’t until probably a quarter of the way through this novel that I actually got my head around Mike Bolt, Mo Khan, Keogh, Mehdi, MacLean, Sayenko, Grier and Scope. Until this point they were pretty much all the same person. I would say this novel lacks characterisation because they are literally nearly all the same other than names and ethnicity but (and this will sound really contradictory) on the flip side every single character has reams and reams of back story, so much in fact they almost all deserve their own novels. The problem is that it’s all forgettable backstory and none of it is actually relevant to the main plot. What you’re then left with is a long, meandering plot with predictable twists and irrelevant background information. Do not waste your time with this novel. Life is too short. (As proven by this novel where most of the characters are shot to bits before you can even begin to sympathise with them).

– Over and out x

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Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

I’ve put off writing this for a really long time because what is there to say? After all, how do you review what is essentially a historic text? I can’t comment on the book’s plot or pace or how well written it is because it isn’t fiction and it wasn’t exactly intended to be published. Anne had always hoped to one day write a novel entitled ‘The Secret Annexe’ about her experiences in hiding but I very much doubt whether she ever foresaw that the diary she wrote between the ages of 13 and 15 would be read by millions of people all around the world. I’ve taken this extract from the diary:

Just imagine how interesting it would be if I were to publish a novel about the Secret Annexe. The title alone would make people think it was a detective story.
   Seriously, though, ten years after the war people would find it very amusing to read how we lived, what we ate and what we talked about as Jews in hiding.

I think everyone knows what happened to Anne Frank and her family. I remember learning about it at school, I’ve seen documentaries and visited exhibitions, but nothing is quite like reading the words of the girl herself.

Anne Frank

Before writing this I decided to read some reviews on Amazon to see what other people wrote. As if I wasn’t already disgusted enough by humankind after reading the diary, this made matters a whole lot worse. Overall the book scores 4.7 out of 5, which of course is excellent and most people have positive comments to make, but I am astounded by the 1 star reviews that call the book ‘boring’ or say that ‘she whines too much’. I doubt there was a lot to do in hiding and any complaints she expresses are fully warranted given the situation she was in.

The persecution of the Jews has to be one of worst injustices of the last century. The fact that Anne spent the only teenage years she ever lived in hiding is heartbreaking. She lived in what was effectively three rooms at the back of her father’s office, unable to open the windows in case someone saw, unable to move around during the day in case warehouse workers heard and unable to flush the toilet for the same reason. What this girl and so many others like her went through is incredible, in the true sense of the word. I simply cannot comprehend this extreme racial hatred that forced thousands to flea the country or go into hiding. It’s mind-numbingly unjust, and it wasn’t even that long ago. Reading the afterword I realised that Miep Gies, one of the office staff and helpers, only died in 2010. That brought me back to reality. All this happened only 65 years ago.

The Diary of a Young Girl isn’t a story, it isn’t fiction, it’s exactly what it says on the tin – it’s Anne’s thoughts, feelings and fears – after all, ‘paper is more patient than man’. At first it’s sweet and endearing, it reminded me of myself at 13, egotistical as children are, but completely understandable. Then towards the end it turns darker as the fears of being discovered become almost unquenchable.

If you want to understand what happened on an emotional level then I fully recommend you read The Diary of a Young Girl. It’s so touching and heartfelt, but utterly devastating at the same time that a life, many lives, were taken before their time. Anne hoped to be a writer, to start a family and live a long happy life, but she never got the chance. It truly opened up my eyes to the horrors the Jews experienced, and it isn’t just learning the facts like a history lesson, it’s feeling the same feelings and sharing her fears. It does what fiction does best, it places you in her shoes. To quote To Kill a Mockingbird, ‘you never really understand a person until you consider things from [their] point of view…until you climb into [their] skin and walk around in it.’ Placed in Anne’s shoes, be prepared to feel everything with a raw edge. Anne’s diary must be one of the only good things to come out of this injustice, but it is a good thing because her memory will live on and her story will be heard. RIP Anne Frank, Margot Frank, Edith Frank, Hermann van Pels, Auguste van Pels, Peter van Pels, Fritz Pfeffer and all the other 6 million Jews and 5 million Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, disabled people and Roma who didn’t survive the holocaust.

Anne Frank

 

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Apologies everyone but I finished this a while ago and it’s taken me ages to get around to writing a review!

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood took FOREVER to get through (about 5 weeks to be precise). I’m going to blame that mainly on my dissertation, but one thing I will say is that this book is difficult to read. You have to sit down fully prepared for a coarse subject matter and for me the last thing I felt like doing at the end of a long day was sitting down to oppression, corporal punishment and an appalling lack of human rights.

The Handmaid's Tale

This novel tells the story of a young woman, Offred (Of Fred, as in belonging to her commander, Fred). Society has transitioned around her and there is no escape. Through flashbacks we learn her old life was a domestic one, complete with boyfriend Luke and daughter, but now her family has been taken from her and she is made to act as a concubine for the wealthy men, the commanders, in the hope of giving them children. Fertility rates have declined rapidly due to an increase in sexually transmitted diseases and problems with contraception. There are very few woman left able to bear children. Those who have proven they are able through previous conception are the handmaids, the concubines like Offred. They are made to dress in flowing red gowns and headpieces to disguise their sexuality and given extremely limited freedoms. Their diets are controlled and smoking, drinking and the use of any other substances is banned. They have regular health screenings and do little other than perform routine tasks for the household. Their existence has one purpose: to procreate.

This novel is creative but it’s not innovative. Atwood uses only laws and beliefs known to exist in certain cultures around the globe. The novel depicts Gilead as a homophobic nation, the women are made to cover their skin with long gowns and winged hats and are not allowed to leave the house without permission and the chaperoning of another handmaid. The novel explores the class system – the women dress in coloured gowns depending on their position in society – and the power of political extremism. No one breaks the rules through fear of death, those who do find themselves swinging from ‘the wall’. The leadership have eyes and nothing escapes their notice. The novel incorporates ceremonies and rituals not too dissimilar from those in some far corners of the world and then there’s ‘The Red Centre’, the camp created to re-educate these women. Through the medium of fiction Atwood has merged some of the worst violations of human rights imaginable into one nation. The result? Something scarily a little too close to reality.

Although The Handmaid’s Tale was written in 1985, I am about to discuss Saudi Arabia today. I realise there is a flaw in this plan but I doubt much has changed (for the worse anyway) in the last 31 years and will therefore plough ignorantly on. In Saudi Arabia women are not allowed to leave the house unaccompanied, they must be escorted by a guardian (known as a Mahram) wherever they go. Saudi women are banned from driving, opening bank accounts without their husband’s permission and from wearing any clothing or make up that enhances their beauty. In fact most women wear abayas (long black cloaks) and headscarfs. Their faces need not necessarily be covered but this is to the chagrin of some hardliners. Saudi women risk criminal charges should they spend time with any male outside of their family and reading uncensored material is banned. It’s not too hard to see where Atwood may have gotten some of her extremist ideas from. The Handmaid’s Tale may exaggerate some of these beliefs – in the novel the handmaids are not allowed to read at all and all reading material is said to have been destroyed – but they are very much present in today’s society.

The Handmaid's Tale

I praise Margaret Atwood for the ingenuity of this novel. She has uniquely combined some of the world’s most major flaws and also predicted some of the issues the world would face in this rapidly-changing modern era.

Now enough of the mechanics of the novel and down to the nitty-gritty.

The Handmaid’s Tale is excellently written. The language is eloquent without standing out as being pretentious and the plot is well paced. My one issue with the structure of the novel is that it is very segmented. Each section (I say section because it is structured with chapters within chapters) is typically only 3 or 4 pages long, which can become jarring if you are tempted to only read a couple of pages before putting it down like I am. In fact, I think this style encourages you to only read a few of pages before replacing it on coffee table , and whereas on the one hand this can make it disjointed, it also allows you time to stop and think. And that’s what this novel really wants you to do: think. It is aware of its power and its message. Without wishing to sound like an A Level student I need to mention metafiction. This novel is very self-aware. Every few pages there is some reference to writing or the knowledge of a reader. There are a lot of direct addresses, and although this is usually something I like as narrows the gap between reader and text, coming from a character so alien, I found it a little uncomfortable.

The Handmaid's Tale

Now to the ending. I won’t give away any spoilers, but I wanted a little more. I thought the final section with Professor Pieixoto was a clever way to tie loose strands together but I wanted a more definitive answer. I suppose I’m just the kind of person who is never happy with anything that even hints at an open ending. I imagine most readers would have been satisfied, but I wanted to understand how society had changed since the last mention of Offred. I was eager to know more, but I suppose that’s just how this novel functions – it gives you snippets of information until you have a whole picture. From the very first page you are thrown into the deep end and have to wait for things to unravel – it’s like you can hear the little clicks in your brain as you read and learn about Gilead. That’s why I wasn’t totally convinced by the end; I wanted the clicks to keep coming, I wanted the story to continue. I wanted more, and that must be the sign of a very good book.

Over and out –

Me Before You – Jojo Moyes

Having just finished my degree I wanted a trashy read for a change and found myself picking up Me Before You by Jojo Moyes in a charity shop. I’d seen the trailer at the cinema for the film adaptation and thought it might be an interesting read, something outside of my comfort zone. I’m never usually a fan of this genre; I’ve steered well clear of My Sister’s Keeper, The Fault in Our Stars and other such things because frankly I find them too depressing. The thing that made me try Me Before You was that I liked their casting choices for the film (Sam Claflin as Will and Emilia Clarke as Lou) and I always like to read a book before I see the movie. (Has anyone seen the film? What do you think?)

Me Before You

I suppose this book was exactly what I was expecting. It has that dreadful sense of impending doom from the very first page. A sad ending is obviously to be expected due to genre conventions if nothing else, but this made it difficult to read. I hardly wanted to finish this novel because I wanted to delay the grief I would inevitably feel at the end. So I cannot tell you it is one of those books you won’t be able to put down. I put it down many times, often for days at a time, because I didn’t want the sadness to get any closer. However, that’s really my issue with this genre of novel.

What I enjoyed most was the continuous flow of the narrative. Although at times predictable, I liked that the plot took the shape of one long undulating journey. The steady unfolding of Will and Louisa’s personalities and the slow progression of their relationship meant growing to love them both, and adoring them together. Despite being predominantly in Louisa’s head it was equally easy to sympathise with Will and his condition. I can see why this novel has been so popular. It’s rare to see such thorough character development in this type of ‘easy-read’ novel.

Me Before You

It is by no means a literary masterpiece. In fact there were numerous occasions where I paused and thought ‘what a ridiculous metaphor’ or ‘why would anyone write that?’ Here are a few examples:

The castle baked in the high heat of summer, the ground cracked
and the grass wispy, like the last hairs on the head of a balding man.

There was a definite waft of large haddock in the atmosphere. 

I understand Moyes is attempting humour here but she didn’t quite pull it off for me. In fact it made me feel a lot better about my own writing.

That being said, not all great novels are brilliantly written. I would recommend Me Before You to anyone who’s after a good story, not a good novel.

Over and out –

The Girl on the Train and Why Audiobooks are Awful

Apologies for the not-so-snappy title everyone.

Anyone who knows me knows I live a very long way from where I go to University at UEA in Norwich. Because of this every few months I find myself having to drive 300 miles across the country. Usually I’d just listen to music but a few weeks ago (yes I know I’m a little late with this post) I found myself with a problem: I don’t own any CDs, I don’t pay for a subscription to Spotify of Apple Music, and I was planning on driving through the night so the radio would be unthinkably awful. For this reason I decided to download the free trial of Audible and have a go at listening to an audiobook. With the Audible free trial you get one free book and I chose The Girl on the Train. It’s a book I’ve wanted to read ever since the reviews compared it to Gone Girl (my favourite book EVER) and I saw this as a great opportunity.

night driving

That was were the greatness ceased. Perhaps this wasn’t the best choice for an audiobook since the narration comes from three different female voices, but I found it quite confusing. Although driving hundreds of miles on the motorway is an almost mindless task, there are times when you have to concentrate – junctions, roundabouts, the M25 in general and times of tricky overtaking – and during these moments it is impossible to follow the audio. For The Girl on the Train this was crucial since I frequently missed the name at the beginning telling me who’s perspective the chapter was in – and when the book was knew to me I couldn’t work it out either.

If you were literally sat doing nothing at all and could solely concentrate on the book then an audiobook would be great – but then why not just read?

The Girl on the Train

The story blended into a nonsensical mess and I lost interest in it. Needless to say, I never finished the audiobook of The Girl on the Train. However, from the reviews I’ve read and from my brief experience with it, I don’t think I’ll be attempting the paperback either. The three female voices are all similarly unlikeable – particularly the alcoholic (I don’t remember her name) None were gripping and parts of the story revolved around completely irrational behaviour. I wouldn’t recommend The Girl on the Train and I’d advise you to steer clear of the audiobook as a substitute for reading. If you want to read, just read.

P.S The fact that S J Watson’s recommendation is featured on the front cover doesn’t fill me with confidence. Find my review of his book Before I Go To Sleep here.

My Under-appreciated Favourites

I suppose this is really just an excuse to write again about some of my favourite books but let’s just ignore that and pretend this is all totally new content.

I believe there’s a lot of books out there that deserve far more credit than they get. Perhaps people have a vendetta against classic texts, perhaps people just have very different tastes to mine, I don’t know, but here’s a list of books I think are under-appreciated.

Just to put things into perspective, The Boy in Striped Pyjamas, Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy, a bunch of Agatha Christie novels, along with just about all the Harry Potter books and The Hunger Games novels score 4 or above on Goodreads. Don’t get me wrong, these are good books – particularly Philip Pullman’s novels – but they not jaw-droppingly amazing and I think my list deserves to beat them.

Without anymore chitchat from me, here’s my list:

Wuthering Heights – 3.8

Wuthering Heights is the best book written by the Brontës. Having read Jane Eyre (which scored 4.08 on Goodreads) and sort of liked it I wanted to embark on another similar book. Wuthering Heights is in no way similar. It’s better. It’s dark and completely unexpected. In a way it tells the story of forbidden love, but there’s so much more too it than that. In this story nothing seems to run smoothly, and although at times that makes it heartbreaking, it also makes it different; it makes it powerful. What’s more, the writing is beautiful: ‘He is more myself than I am. Whatever our two souls are made of, his and mine are the same.’

Wuthering Heights

On The Road – 3.79

This is a novel that I didn’t particularly like at first; it was only with hindsight that I realised how good this novel really was. Perhaps that’s why it doesn’t score as well as a lot of other travel fiction on Goodreads. To truly realise the magic of this novel you have to understand the context in which it was written. So you don’t have to jump to the Wikipedia page I’ll explain now: Jack Kerouac was a great traveller, he was not a writer. On The Road simply encapsulates his travelling experiences in a novel – perhaps not the best written novel but what better medium to document his life. His writing method is also something to note: Kerouac wrote the novel is one go. He even taped bits of paper together so he wouldn’t have to interrupt the flow of his writing by stopping to load his typewriter with a new sheet. To me that’s pretty impressive.

For the full post on On The Road click here.

On The Road

One Day – 3.75

One Day is the only book I’ve ever wanted to start again immediately after finishing it. For me, 3.75 is a really low score for such a moving and intense novel. The characters are believable and likeable and lovely. I can’t really explain why I enjoyed this novel so much but I really did. I suppose I see it as a novel that really represents life. It’s a romance but it’s not a typical romance; it’s not kissing in the rain and soppy words, it’s real. Relationships have their ups and downs and this novel truly represents the rollercoaster that is life like no other book I’ve ever read.

For the full post on One Day click here.

One Day

Until next time and happy reading! xoxo

The Grownup – Gillian Flynn

This book isn’t quite what I expected. ‘The Grownup’ is written by Gillian Flynn and was published as a stand alone short story just last year, in the November of 2015. Realising it was written by the same author as Gone Girl, a book I believe I’ll be in love with until the end of my days, I bought it immediately without even pausing to read the blurb. As it turns out, I should have read the blurb. This isn’t a typical Flynn-esque domestic thriller like Gone Girl.

‘The Grownup’ is an interesting concoction of horror, psychological thriller and damn right weird. It opens with an explanation as to how the main character, who remains unnamed throughout the text, ends up working as a psychic-come-hooker. Hoping to break through into the ‘spiritual cleansing’ business, she makes a home visit to new client Susan Burke. Ready to sprinkle her lavender water around as a part of her con – from which she hopes to earn $2,000 – she enters Carterhook Manor. However, upon entering she finds that the house is full of noises an uncanny goings on. She too believes it is haunted…

The Grownup

For me this book had too many twists in too short a space of time. Had the story been longer (but yes I understand it’s called a short story for a reason) then I think Flynn would have had more time to execute her plot twists better. The last ten pages seem to completely undo everything and then undo everything again, leaving you with no time for the dust to settle before the story is over. I understand it’s meant to have a shock factor, that that’s the point, but I don’t think it works. I don’t like open endings so I certainly don’t like books that leave you just hanging there, dazed and confused.

My guess is that Flynn – or more likely Flynn’s publishers – wanted to have a new book out in quick succession of the film Gone Girl to make a little extra $$$. To do this they printed an old text, a short story that was originally published as part of an anthology edited by George R. R. Martin, as a stand alone piece.

Perhaps it’s just that this story shows signs of underdeveloped writing that I didn’t particularly like. I was expecting something comparable to Gone Girl but given this was written a long time before, before Flynn had a chance to hone both her writing and her story-telling ability, then I’m not surprised it is subpar. Expectation can be a dangerous thing.

The work of a good book is to still be thinking about it hours, days or even weeks after you’ve finished it, but perhaps not if all you’re thinking is ‘what the hell was that all about?’

Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Girl With a Pearl Earring is written by UEA alumni Tracy Chevalier. Because of this I knew right from the outset that it would be a good book. UEA churns out good writers, Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro and more recently Emma Healey to name just a few. It was pretty much guaranteed to be well written and that’s something I particularly look for in a novel.

If I’m honest, it’s not a book I had a hankering to read until I stumbled across it lying on a dusty shelf at the Book Barn (the biggest second hand book shop in the world – probably anyway). I’ve never seen the film and honestly knew nothing about the story but wanted to give it a go.

This novel tells the story of how the iconic painting Girl With a Pearl Earring came to be painted. The novel, however, is pure fiction since the identity of the real girl is still a mystery. Griet, as a very young woman, begins working at the painter Vermeer’s house as a maid when her family come into financial trouble. The family are Catholic with a million children – or at least it seems that way – and Griet is Protestant. She struggles to adjust to their family life and faces a number of challenges along the way.

Girl with a Pearl Earring

This doesn’t sound like an extraordinarily interesting book but it is. It reminded me a little of The Miniaturist because of the setting and era, but this is better. It’s well written and that’s so key for me; some of the language is really gripping. The other thing I suppose is that I’ve come away from the novel feeling as if I have learnt something. I know a little more about life in the Netherlands in the Seventeenth Century. I know a little more about life.

Girl With a Pearl Earring is written in first person and I felt I could really connect with the character. I felt sorry for her when the children played tricks on her, I understood her closeness to her sister and her conflict of feelings over Pieter the son. In simple terms, I understood the character and all of her actions and all of her motives. This made it a very moving novel in a way that The Miniaturist never was.

The only thing I could have wished was that this novel had a more rounded ending. I don’t want to give too much away but I wish I knew a little more about how she felt about the way her life turned out. I suppose by that point in the novel you know the character so well that you know how she feels about the whole situation but still, I wish I had been told. I wish I didn’t have to do the thinking myself.

The Makings of a Good Book

I wasn’t sure about making this post because everyone has their own opinions and everyone is capable of deciding what makes a good book, but I’ve slated a few novels over my blogging-life-so-far and feel obliged to explain why. I hope to clarify what I’m looking for in a book and explain why certain reads turn out to be big disappointments. Don’t worry, I’ll make it snappy.

Books

1. It has to teach me something new. By this I don’t necessarily mean it has to be factual or historical but I have to feel somehow intellectually better-off after having spent hours of my time sifting through its pages.

2. It has to be well written. If I feel I could write the book better myself then it’s not a good book. Before I Go To Sleep. Cough. The language has to have some thought behind it. It has to be interesting. I have to notice it.

3. The plot has to keep me engaged. Of course there will be moments of tension and times where things sort of plato, that’s natural in every story, but there has to be constant progression or else I (and many other readers I suspect) will get bored.

4. The characters have to be well-rounded and developed. They also have to be believable. If a character’s actions do not seem to suit his or her personality then I seem to lose any connection I had with that character; I no longer understand them and I no longer care. They have to have layers and they too need progression. Also, a good book needs at least one likeable character, if I hate all of them I’m likely to hate the book. This is really important. The Girl on the Train. Cough.

And I think that pretty much sums it up. If a book is well written with interesting characters and an engaging plot – and I have like I’ve gained something from reading it – then I’m bound to like it. Hopefully this somewhat justifies me slating the odd book. A bit. Sort of. Maybe?

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.