Thursday, 22 March 2012

Book Review: 'The Woman in Black' by Susan Hill

The Woman in Black

By Susan Hill

Published: October 10th, 1983
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
Genre: Ghost Story/ Horror Novel 
Format: Paperback
Pages: 192

Cover Art

I think these covers do represent the book rather well but I don't really care for them all that much. I don't like film covers very much so the one with young Daniel is my least favourite. The one next to that is creepy and sinister and I don't like the expression on that man's face! Seen a ghost? I feel this is the cover which looks most like a ghost story you would know what to expect. I like the font on the third one from the left...very Gothic and Victorian, and the trees in the background look misty and ghostly. The final cover, on the right, is the one which I have and I think it is OK...I don't think the figure looks very creepy or threatening though which is what would draw a lot of people in to a horror story/ghost story. It is very Victorian literature looking though and I think it is probably my favourite.

Plot Synopsis

Set on the obligatory English moor, on an isolated causeway, the story's hero is Arthur Kipps, an up-and-coming young solicitor who has come north to attend the funeral and settle the estate of Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. The routine formalities he anticipates give way to a tumble of events and secrets more sinister and terrifying than any nightmare: the rocking chair in the nursery of the deserted Eel Marsh House, the eerie sound of pony and trap, a child's scream in the fog, and, most dreadfully, and for Kipps most tragically, the woman in black. 

My Rating

First Lines

' 'It was nine-thirty on Christmas Eve. As I crossed the long entrance hall of Monk's Piece on my way from the dining room, where we had just enjoyed the first of the happy, festive meals, towards the drawing room and the fire around which my family were now assembled, I paused and then, as I often do in the course of an evening, went to the front door, opened it and stepped outside' 


Hmm. A pseudo-Victorian Gothic ghost story that has a very un-Victorian length of 140 pages. To be honest, it's not very good. It reminds me of 14 year old me when I started reading things like Dracula, Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and thinking 'there's not much to this writing a classic novel business- I should give it a try'. Cue the dull, rational protagonist (lawyer or doctor obviously) who is thrown into some spooky goings-on and slowly becomes undone in such default settings as spooky misty moore or haunted house. What I didn't understand when I was 14, as Susan Hill doesn't seem to understand in the 1980's when this was written, is that imitation is not all that flattering when it comes to novel writing. Those Victorian/pre-Victorian novels, that everyone now knows, are classics, not for their content, but for how revolutionary they were in their own time and how different they were from what came before them. They were then a reaction against Romanticism, a way to make people's skin crawl in a time when the rational began to, unfavourably for some, overtake the irrational and mystical/religious. This story is displaced in time, adding nothing, and doing nothing. 

It is a cliche from beginning to end. Seriously. Look up a list of all the features needed to create a Gothic novel and you can tick them off on a checklist whilst reading it. And if you're thinking, like me, that there is going to be a huge, redeeming twist at the end that throws everything that comes before it into a riotous question would be wrong. It really is trying to be a legitimate Gothic novel. It doesn't even have an interesting, dubious protagonist ala 'The Turn of the Screw'. It is really....nothing. 

However, saying all this you are probably wondering why I have even given it two stars. Well. Embarrassingly enough, this silly ghost story gave me the creeps. So it partly did it's job I guess. Faces at the window, unlocked doors opening themselves, dogs howling, children screaming, rocking chairs inexplicably set a-rocking...these kinds of things never fail to make me uneasy. And the writing's not terrible. But then, nothing much happens for the first 100 pages and, while many people may call this build-up and making the reader feel tense and uneasy in anticipation of the climax, it was done quite poorly and I wasn't as scared as I should've been. It was quite boring really and my eyes glazed quite a bit during that section. 

Anyway, disappointment aside, I am glad I read this ahead of the film as now I probably won't bother seeing it. Although as the ending is...upsetting to say the least (it is the ONLY harrowing bit of the book and is well-written enough to make you feel a jolt of...something) it is so obvious and so expected as to be almost a shock when it actually happens! I can already barely remember the name of the main character...I have a feeling I am not going to remember this short story for very long at all. 

Other Thoughts

This Book has Inspired me to Read: REAL Victorian ghost stories such as Charles Dickens' collection of short ghost stories.

Three Words to Describe this Book: Ghostly. Gothic. Uninspiring.


  1. Hi there, just popping in from Book Blogs... You have a great blog :)

    I'm your newest follower!

    Here is my blog to check out: Book Enslaved

  2. I've heard so many people say that both the book and the movie were a huge disappointment. That's such a bummer to me, because I was planning on reading both. But I guess I won't bother now - It just doesn't sound like it's for me.

    Thanks for the great review :)

    -Jac @ For Love and Books

  3. Your style is honestly refreshing! I love your voice!
    I'm staying tuned!

  4. Poop only 2 stars I just bought this book was hoping to have more than 2. Maybe a good gift item!
    Thanks for the review

  5. wanted to say I'm a new follower and love your blog!

  6. You saved me from buying this book. Thank you for sharing.

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