Tuesday, 27 December 2016

The Woman In Black

Susan Hill
Vintage

Proud and solitary, Eel Marsh House surveys the windswept reaches of the salt marshes beyond Nine Lives Causeway. Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor, is summoned to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow, the house's sole inhabitant, unaware of the tragic secrets which lie hidden behind the shuttered windows. It is not until he glimpses a pale young woman, dressed all in black, at the funeral, that a creeping sense of unease begins to take hold, a feeling deepened by the reluctance of the locals to talk of the woman in black - and her terrible purpose.

I've avoided the Harry Potter version of this like the plague but the Nigel Kneale adaptation was particularly good so I was pretty intrigued to read the book at some point and so when I finally came across a copy I dived in.

As a pastiche of the ghost books of old it is absolutely spot on and Hill has nailed both the voice and the vibe.  There is a little wobble in that at times it's quite difficult to pin down exactly when the various parts of the story are set - at one point Arthur (Kipps, our narrator) makes an allusion to something being like a Victorian melodrama  (or some such, I stupidly forgot to make a note of the page) which is when I thought it was meant to be set so I revised forward to early Edwardian and in the opening sequence to possibly pre-WWII.


But anyway,  it's pastiche credentials notwithstanding the book has to stand on it's own account and it absolutely does.  Hill has created a genuinely creepy and disquieting tale wherein the Black Lady's presence and the spectral goings-on on the marsh are palpably upsetting.  Kipps is a sympathetically human character that we first meet as a gentle if somewhat melancholy character before we get to view the terrible events that turn the ambitious and slightly starchy younger version into the man we meet at the outset.

The supporting cast are, for the most part, fairly sketchily drawn which is unsurprising in a novella but Hill uses a lovely light touch to give them anima such as Tomes the clerk with his constant sniffing.

The books conclusion is both inevitable and horrible and drenched with vindictive and pointless malice leaving the reader drained and as bereft as our protagonist.

Buy it here -  The Woman In Black

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