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The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
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The Woman in Black (original 1983; edition 1997)

by Susan Hill

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1,7691403,979 (3.79)399
Member:kiwidoc
Title:The Woman in Black
Authors:Susan Hill
Info:
Collections:Read in 2009, Read but unowned
Rating:****1/2
Tags:Fiction. English.

Work details

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (1983)

  1. 50
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English (137)  Dutch (2)  Swedish (1)  All languages (140)
Showing 1-5 of 137 (next | show all)
In my second time through, the story changes completely.

The Woman in Black begins, strangely enough, on Christmas Eve at a country home called Monk's Piece. The weather is "wretched," which normally makes owner Arthur Kipp susceptible to "gloom and lethargy, unable to enjoy the flavour of life" as he would have liked. Luckily, it's Christmas time, and Esmé, his wife of fourteen years, has put a lot of effort into the holiday. Now on Christmas Eve, Esmé's older children are at Monk's Piece, along with three little grandchildren who are asleep upstairs. Arthur has gone out for a bit o' the night air, contemplating the happiness of partaking in his "pipe and a glass of good malt whisky beside the crackling fire, in the happy company" of his family. As he returns to the group, he has obviously interrupted a conversation, and after the eldest boy turns off all of the lights, leaving only the firelight, Esmé clues Arthur in as to what's going on. It seems that the three boys want to revive an "ancient tradition" of telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve. Each trying to outdo the other, the stories were a mix of

"dripping stone walls in uninhabited castles and of ivy-clad monastery ruins by moonlight, of locked inner rooms and secret dungeons, dank charnel houses and overgrown graveyards, of footsteps creaking upon staircases and fingers tapping at casements, of howlings and shrinkings..."

and much more, each story getting more "lurid, wilder and sillier." At first Arthur is entertained, but as they went on, he "began to feel set apart from them all, an outsider to their circle." Soon enough, the boys demand a story from Arthur, but he adamantly and most firmly tells them he has "no story to tell." What they do not know, of course, is that he really does have a story -- but not one that makes for good entertainment at the holidays. His story is one of an experience that, as he muses, has become "woven into my very fibres," one that he had always hoped he'd never have to live through again. Having managed to bury it within himself to the point where "of late, it had been like the outermost ripple on a pool, merely the faint memory of a memory," the evening's entertainment has brought it all come rushing back. Arthur has now decided that he should set it down on paper in hopes of being "free of it for whatever life remained for me to enjoy. " But, as he notes, it's not an easy task, even after all the years that have passed:

"I have sat here at my desk, day after day, night after night, a blank sheet of paper before me, unable to lift my pen, trembling and weeping too."

Obviously, whatever the story is still haunts him all these years later.

The remainder of the novel is Arthur's story of events that occurred shortly after he'd turned twenty three, when he was a "youthful and priggish" young man sent to Chythin Gifford to represent the legal firm he works for at the funeral of a client, Mrs. Drablow, and then to spend time at her home gathering her papers to return to the office. Two simple tasks, but of course, the reader knows that something is going to go terribly wrong, something that will bring rational, level-headed Arthur to the point of "trembling and weeping" even after so much time has passed.

Not only is The Woman in Black a fine ghostly tale, but Arthur is an excellent story teller, although lately I've been considering the idea that he just might fall into the category of unreliable narrator.

The first chapter contains a number of elements that prepare the reader for what's to come, and as the story progresses, we take this journey with Arthur step by step, unaware of what lies ahead, so that his discoveries become ours and his growing sense of uneasiness and dread are planted in our brains and under our skins. I could talk about this book forever because there's so much here, but I can't so I'll just point out a couple of things. There's an ongoing theme of isolation, not just in terms of landscape, but also in terms of experiences that cause someone to feel set apart from others. It's also filled with revenge and loss. My thinking though is that the story centers on Arthur's own search for a rational answers where there may be none -- and not just concerning the woman in black -- tied to Arthur's own transformation, which for me lies at the heart of this entire book.

It goes without saying that I really had a great time with this book. It was all things a good ghost story should be, with bonuses. There was one point where I had to chuckle, though -- I turned to my edition's page 105, and the chapter heading was "Whistle and I'll Come to You," a shortened title of M.R. James' "Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad." How perfect! This is, however, not a fast-paced book, but one to be savored slowly. Readers who are looking for thrill after thrill may be a bit disappointed, or readers who are solely driven by plot action might find this one a bit tame or even, as some have noted, flat out boring. Another thing: if you're expecting a work along the lines of classic ghost-story writers, you're bound to be disappointed. My advice - have no expectations going in, sit back, relax and enjoy it for what it is. ( )
  bcquinnsmom | Dec 24, 2014 |
I found the introductory chapter to be far too long for its purpose and the story, while only taking up 200 pages, could have been told in half that space. I thought the story was too predictable. The author was obviously trying to get the reader to experience the horror of the main character but I felt her writing skills were not up to this. I felt she was telling me the man's feelings rather than showing them to me and having me experience them.

I can see how this story would work well as a film, but having finished the story I think it would be hard for the ending to be a surprise even if one hadn't read the book.

I read the book before seeking out the film but I do not now care if I ever see the film. If you are considering reading the book in advance of watching the film I would suggest you watch the film and do not bother with the book. ( )
  pgmcc | Nov 21, 2014 |
I first heard about this story from a friend who saw the stage adaptation in London. She said it was terrifying. Because of that visceral review, I had high expectations for the book.

There are a number of very unsettling scenes, and the ending, although somewhat easy to see coming, sent chills through my spine. My only criticism is the set-up took much too long and there were a few other points where the story dragged a bit. But overall, a quick, scary read. And those unsettling scenes are the type that will linger in my mind for a very long time. ( )
  CathrynGrant | Nov 20, 2014 |
I listened to this while jogging. It's a fun, spooky, gothic story with terror, palpitations, fog, moors.....it's atmospheric, to say the least.
This is a short story. There's a lot left unsaid and unresolved. The ending is fitting and yet unexplained.
A fun story but feels a bit unfinished. ( )
  PetraBC | Oct 23, 2014 |
This story truly is the classic ghost story! The Woman in Black is one of the creepiest characters I have encountered before. The story begins when Arthur Kipps is at his home and his stepchildren are telling ghost stories. So he then decides that it is time to exorcist his own demon and write down what happened to him with his real encounter with the ghost of The Woman in Black. The story has a dark and dreary atmosphere. Something that struck me as something notable is once the tide goes up on the causeway you are basically trapped trapped at Eel Marsh House. Overall this is a vary well written story and I really enjoyed reading it. ( )
  Hpfan28 | Sep 19, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 137 (next | show all)
I love this style of writing... very detailed and descriptive. Although some of our students have said that they had a hard time getting through the first few chapters, I was immediately captivated.
 

» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Susan Hillprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Klingberg, OlaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lawrence, JohnIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
For Pat and Charles Gardner
First words
It was nine-thirty on Christmas Eve.
Quotations
But gradually I discovered for myself the truth of the axiom that a man cannot remain indefinitely in a state of active terror. Either the emotion will increase until, at the prompting of more and more dreadful events and apprehensions, he is so overcome by it that he runs away or goes mad; or he will become by slow degrees less agitated and more in possession of himself.
A man may be accused of cowardice for fleeing away from all manner of physical dangers but when things supernatural, insubstantial and inexplicable threaten not only his safety and well-being but his sanity, his innermost soul, then retreat is not a sign of weakness but the most prudent course.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
Arthur Kipps in an up-and-coming London solicitor who is sent to Crythin Gifford-a faraway town in the windswept salt marshes beyond Nine Lives Causeway-to attend the funeral and settle the affairs of a client. Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. Mrs. Drablow's house stands at the end of the causeway, wreathed in fog and mystyery, but Kipps is unaware of the tragic secrets that lie hidden behind its sheltered windows. The routine business trip he anticipated quickly takes a horrifying turn when he finds himself haunted by a series of mysterious sounds and images-a rocking chair in a deserted nursery, the eerie sound of a pony and trap, a child's scream in the fog, and, most terrifying of all, a ghostly woman dressed in black. (96780307950215)
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307745317, Paperback)

A classic ghost story: the chilling tale of a menacing specter haunting a small English town. Arthur Kipps is an up-and-coming London solicitor who is sent to Crythin Gifford--a faraway town in the windswept salt marshes beyond Nine Lives Causeway--to attend the funeral and settle the affairs of a client, Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. Mrs. Drablow's house stands at the end of the causeway, wreathed in fog and mystery, but Kipps is unaware of the tragic secrets that lie hidden behind its sheltered windows. The routine business trip he anticipated quickly takes a horrifying turn when he finds himself haunted by a series of mysterious sounds and images--a rocking chair in a deserted nursery, the eerie sound of a pony and trap, a child's scream in the fog, and, most terrifying of all, a ghostly woman dressed all in black.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:04:26 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

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 shutttered windows.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 11 descriptions

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