Sue CCCP's Reviews > The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
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Apr 05, 12

bookshelves: review-written, not-your-ordinary-book-group-picks
Read from March 10 to 13, 2012

3.5 Stars

My full review: http://coffeecookiesandchilipeppers.b...

Unlike many modern horror stories, this title is mercifully lacking in blood-splat-gore-horror. This is the more psychological horror of Edgar Allen Poe and Bram Stoker: it relies upon the terror produced by the unknown and the inexplicable, rather than simply exposing vast quantities of internal body organs. We share Arthur’s increasing terror as the unusual events move gradually from the merely peculiar to the absolutely murderous. However, we do not share his reaction to these events at the beginning: whilst we KNOW that there is something very wrong with his first meetings with the Woman, he ignores all the signs and continues to deny an otherworld explanation for events. Even when he has had some really terrifying experiences, he recovers and then hides behind his blind faith in his own indestructability and tries to ignore what his instincts, and we, are shouting: “DON”T BE STUPID! RUN AWAY!” I find this kind of horror far more disturbing than the simple ‘jump out of your seat’ shocks that are the usual fare in most modern horror films.

Other significant aspects of Gothic horror take minor roles in this book. As the story of the Woman is revealed, we find that her life was destroyed by society’s ideas of acceptable behavior. This was a great influence on Dickens, who is himself an influence upon this novel, as he is credited with introducing fog / smog into literature as a way of creating mood. Ms Hill uses the smog in London to create a feeling of foreboding at the beginning of the story, when Arthur is being given his task. Then the sea mist / fog is an important part of the setting out in the marsh, where the loss of vision adds to the claustrophobic, gloomy mood. This morbid fascination with death was also a common motif in Gothic novels, no doubt due to the increased prevalence of death in the increasingly crowded and poverty-stricken cities of the time. Indeed, Eel Marsh House itself and the surrounding landscape is almost another character, oppressively spreading an air of malevolence and despair.

I enjoyed the writing in this book very much, but I do have a criticism with the pacing: once the haunting began, the pace picked up and began to feel a little rushed. There was such a great set up to the horror that when it actually arrived I would have liked a more prolonged and gradual increase in tension. Also, the way in which Arthur uncovered the story about the Woman seemed far too easy: there really needed to be more subtle and varied ways to drop hints and give us pieces of the picture, which he could then mold into a whole. I felt this was a real weakness, as it made me feel that I was being fobbed off with a hurried way to give him the answers he needed. I also have a nit-pick about the lights, which kept annoying me. The book seems to be set in the early 1900s, at which time there is absolutely no chance that such an isolated house would have had electricity, unless there was a generator, and yet Arthur blithely wanders in and switches on light bulbs. This is only a very minor point, but it really stood out as a sloppy mistake in an otherwise well written and enjoyable read, and so it broke me out of the book, which is never a good thing.

As an aside, it appears that the recent film has taken great liberties with the original story, which is unfortunately all too common.
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