Title: The Woman in Black
Author: Susan Hill
Published: 1983; 2011 edition by Vintage
Date Started: September 22, 2011 Date Finished: September 25, 2011
Worthy of Note: Scared the bejeeezus out of me.
My head reeled at the sheer and startling beauty, the wide, bare openness of it. The sense of space, the vastness of the sky above and on either side made my heart race. I would have travelled a thousand miles to see this. I had never imagined such a place.
So, after going all that way for a book (and many more that I’m sure will get their own feature posts one day), I could not wait to read it. While in England I was reading Mansfield Park, so my guard was down as I finished romance and Regency goodness and moved into Victorian ghost stories.
I don’t often read horror novels for the simple fact that I am a scaredy cat. As a kid, I used to stay up late reading Goosebumps and then not fall asleep for fear of the homicidal dummy/snaggle-toothed sponge/blue monster, etc. waiting to get me. That put me off horror stories for a while, but then I encountered Edgar Allan Poe, and what teenaged girl could say no to Poe? (Certainly not his cousin! *rimshot*) Throughout high school and university, when in the mood for a chilling tale, I could always flip to a page in my Poe anthology, and I was quite happy to leave my horror experience at that. And then I ended up in a class called “Gothic Horror Prose and Film” that changed everything.
Scary books and scary movies became required resources for essays, and the IB kid in me was more afraid of failing than of vampires and ghosts. (Vampires when they were still evil minions of Satan, that is, and weren’t bedazzled from head to toe.) I must say that almost everything I encountered in that class was incredible, from The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson to The Exorcist.
And thus The Woman in Black joins the small, but admired, group of scary books on my shelf. Within the first few pages, I had abandoned my initial Daniel Radcliffe-related reasons for reading it and continued on with an ever-growing awe of Susan Hill. I will try to describe it without revealing anything, since I can imagine there will be many people gunning to read it as soon as they come out of the movie theatre.
The book was quite reminiscent of Poe for me, narrated as it was in first person by someone who has to learn a hard lesson about discounting the supernatural. Like Poe (and Bram Stoker, as well) it also had a lot of play between technology and “the old ways,” and the cosmopolitan and the country.
It was quick to read, being not very long as well as completely engrossing, and well-paced. I certainly felt the hairs on my neck when I was sitting in that room with Arthur, waiting to hear footsteps in the hallway. I perhaps would have preferred if it had ended with Arthur at the same point in his life as when we first met him, but the ending has its own chilling abruptness to it.
The Woman in Black as a character was a fascinating supernatural villain. My tendency is to try and sympathize with a ghost’s tragic past, but she quickly proves herself much too malicious for that. I will not say in what capacity, but suffice it to say that her lust for revenge is not to be trifled with.
If you have any recommendations for simply brilliant horror novels, please leave them in the comments below. Every once in a while I need something to keep me vigilant in the wee hours of the morning with my hands curled around a baseball bat.
Stay tuned for The Woman in Black: Part Three, The Movie