Thursday, 20 June 2013

Book Review: The Woman in Black

Title: The Woman in Black
Author: Susan Hill
Year Published: 1983
Genre: Horror, Supernatural, Gothic

A junior solicitor by the name Arthur Kipps is summoned to attend the funeral of Alice Drablow, the sole inhabitant of Eel Marsh House. It is not until he sees a strange woman dressed in black wondering the premises that he realises the cold, dark uneasiness of Eel Marsh House is not just from the marsh lands nearby, but from the presence of something evil.  

*This review is purely from the book itself and not the movie.*

The pros about a horror novel is the reader can stop when it gets too ‘scary’ and, depending on their imagination, the supernatural world can be altered for the ‘less brave’: rather than having a pitch black room, add a tiny window for some extra natural light etc.
That’s how I get through a horror novel; however I did not need to utilise my own advice for The Woman in Black. There is horror and the supernatural, but the main reason to read the book is for the ‘why’ and the 'end'.

The Woman in Black starts with Arthur explaining his present life after the incident before talking about the past. From the first couple of pages it is clear Arthur survived the ordeal and lives a normal life, of course still been haunted by bad memories. By starting like this, the story loses some suspense on what happens to the main character. To find him living normally doesn’t make his experience serious or frightening enough for the story to be terrifying. I would have prefered if Susan Hill had just dived straight into the main story.     
There is a slow build up in the first part of the novel. From his present describing how he wishes not to mention the past and to the start of the past, the story trugs along. Something’s going to happen but when…… I found myself thinking.
Keep in mind this book is fairly short. Only 200 pages so the first half is more than bearable.

The second half is when things get exciting, from hearing strange noises, phantom winds and … obviously…. seeing a woman in black. It is like a dark cloud has descended into that half of the book, refusing to leave and making the reader wanting to know ‘what happened and why’ desperately. I loved the sudden noises, the uncertainty of where the cold wind is from and the old creepy house. Having the story told from Arthur’s voice and his descriptions makes the story more visually and mentally enhancing.
The Woman in Black is set during the Edwardian era (1901-1910) which just adds to the haunting texture of the book.

The ending was a surprise. I like it and I hate it.
Please skip to the next paragraph to avoid spoilers.
The idea of the unsolved evil bothers me. I like that it’s not a happy ending, but I hate the story of this woman still lingering around the town and house taking lives. I think I would have been more content with the story still lingering if Arthur’s future, after the incident, wasn’t so normal and he was mentally shredded from the experience. He would be one of the many that were and will be victims of the Woman in black. 

But on a happy point, the story is set so precisely during a specific era, a specific place and a specific kind of evil that after reading it, the Woman in black should not suddenly (with no help of the imagination) appear in front of you thanks to the story being so well grounded with no link to the present day (unless Eel Marsh House does exist).

I would love it if Susan Hill made this novel longer and maybe stretched the suspense a bit further. I didn’t get enough of the book especially near the end. I enjoyed it very much and would recommend this book to anyone who wants a good scare but does not want to read a long novel.
After reading this, I am so looking forward to seeing the movie.

Terri's Rating: 3.5/5

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