Wednesday, 3 April 2013

'The Woman In Black' by Susan Hill

My advice before I start: DO NOT WATCH THE FILM - it is TERRIFYING.  I mean actually hiding under the cushion, hands over your eyes, jump out of your seat scary.  So yes, this is my new area of interest but nobody said I had to be brave about it!

The Woman in Black is a book which is accused by some as being merely the skeleton (scuse la pun!)  of a gothic novel. I am loathe to agree with this yet cannot disagree wholeheartedly.  As I was reading the book, I was taken in by the pathetic fallacy of the fog of London in the initial chapters, captivated by the swirling sea fret which capture Arthur Kipps (our 'hero') at Eel Marsh House etc, etc.  That was before I realised a few discrepancies:

  1. No real setting (time) - although there are hints of the early 1900s, there are flaws when it comes to electricity (how can it reach Eel Marsh House when it is so isolated?), telephones, cars. 
  2. Unrealistic in parts - tell me this: You are sent to work in an empty, decrepit, old house where on the first night of sleeping there, you are woken up by a paranormal experience, terrified out of your wits, your dog is hiding scared and you sit up most of the night terrified.  What would you do? NOT GO BACK.  For a character so fragile, Arthur's resolution to ignore any further paranormal events rather than be scared is just ridiculous. Seriously. 
  3. Predictable. - Even if you had not read a book of this genre before, you would be able to hazard a pretty accurate guess at what would happen next.  
Having said all of this, it is an easy read which is short but could be condensed into a short story as opposed to a novella. So about the story (which is different from the film!):

A young solicitor is set the task of going through a deceased client's belongings making sure that all of her paperwork is in order.  He travels from London to the village of Crythin Gifford, the village where the old lady's house is closest to.  Upon arrival, he finds that nobody in the village is willing to discuss anything to do with the old lady or her house and when they find out his intention to visit the house, avoid Arthur wherever possible.  The only exception to this is Sam Daly who tries to advise Arthur against going to the house but remains friends with him anyway.   I will keep this short and sweet: Arthur sees a woman dressed in black (shock!) around the house, rocking chairs, wind etc, etc. Later he finds letters from the old lady who lived in the house to another woman.  These letters reveal that the old lady of the house (Mrs Drablow) had adopted this other woman's son and the other woman was not happy about it, she wanted her son back and kept trying to steal him.  The young boy was lost to the marshes whilst travelling home along the causeway which lead to Eel Marsh House and the woman was bitter and twisted and never ever got over it.  Arthur later finds out that the people in the village are so scared of the house because anytime someone sees this woman in black, a child tragically dies. 

As always, I will not spoil the end of the book for anyone, you will have to read it to find out.  Overall, it is an OK book, it did creep me out in parts.  I can see why it would appeal to a non-experienced reader of gothic fiction but it didn't cut the mustard for me.

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