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The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story by Susan…

The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story (original 1983; edition 2012)

by Susan Hill

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1,8741413,688 (3.78)413
Title:The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story
Authors:Susan Hill
Info:Vintage (2012), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 176 pages
Collections:Read but never owned, SJPL
Tags:fiction, suspense

Work details

The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill (1983)

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English (138)  Dutch (2)  Swedish (1)  All languages (141)
Showing 1-5 of 138 (next | show all)
"A family gathers around a Christmas fire to share ghost stories in the British tradition, only to drive their eldest, Arthur Kipps, staggering out into the winter snow in a paroxysm of remembered terror. Hours later he returns to the house determined to finally exorcise, by writing out his tale, the thing that's haunted him all these years - the memory of the Woman in Black. So begins the tale of a young solicitor sent to sort out the papers of the deceased Alice Drablow and the mystery of Eel Marsh House.

My family has always been relaxed about me watching horror movies since a very young age, so I am one of those people that don't get scared easily. However, the experience of reading this book was so captivating, creepy and downright gripping, that the book got me more scared than the movie (maybe a contributing factor on this is that I also read it alone, during the night). Hill manages to evoke a legend within the character that is The Woman in Black, while at the same time describing two main themes.

First of all, the author exploits the landscapes and scenarios to build atmospheres of terror. She uses the landscape and scenarios as an independent character itself, so they become part of the narration: ""-Behind me, out on the marshes, all was still and silent; save for that movement of the water, the pony and trap might never have existed."" You will easily notice that the sky gets darker, the rooms get colder, the fog sets in whenever something creepy is about to happen. Such practice sets your brain to automatically expect the worst to come at the merest mention of a change in the weather. As a result, I would find myself constantly tense way before anything would actually happen, what, in my opinion, was a lot more interesting than more sparse depictions of horror.

Secondly, there are detailed descriptions of almost everything about the main character. In both cases, Hill uses their positive features to provide a foil for those times when the situation would get out of control or really dark, which provided some balance to the story. However, I do have to admit that despite the quality of Hill’s prose, I wasn't completely satisfied with the way the story unfolded itself on the end of the book. I enjoyed the way that the final twist hung on until the last page of the book, but, in my opinion, a little bit more could have been developed; there was unfinished business in Eel Marsh House.

Overall, this edition of the book is lovely. It was a very atmospheric, and fun read. I enjoyed the combination of the frightening mansion with the inaccessibility of the road at high tide; it reminded me a bit of the idea behind [b:The Hound of the Baskervilles|8921|The Hound of the Baskervilles (Sherlock Holmes, #5)|Arthur Conan Doyle|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1355929358s/8921.jpg|3311984]. It is a traditional British ghost story, in the best sense. The book is considerably shorter than I was expecting, although it might be just a feeling, since I had been reading a bunch of drawn out and over sized books at the time I read this one. I guess this book proves that a good story can be delivered in fewer pages than you think (or publishers want). I'm not giving this book five stars because, even though I've read very few horror books, I figure it isn't very original in its plot points and execution. I did, however, very much enjoy that it's a short book that tosses away everything that is not strictly relevant. I'm automatically inclined to like any author who knows how to do that.

Interesting quotes that I didn't include in the review:
For I see that then I was still all in a state of innocence, but that innocence, once lost, is lost forever.

The Last Passage
There was a terrible crash. Then silence. The woman in black had gone. But my darling Stella and my dear son lay on the grass. They did not move.
Our baby son was dead. Stella’s body was broken. But she did not die. Not then. For ten long months, I sat by her bed. Then Stella died at last from her terrible injuries.
They asked me for my story. I have told it. There is nothing more to write.
" ( )
  AdemilsonM | Sep 2, 2015 |
**Originally posted on www.bunnycates.com **

When I first started in on this book, I have to admit I was a little disappointed. I mean 40 some odd pages in and still NOTHING had “happened”. I’m glad I stuck with it, though. I enjoyed the characters, Arthur, especially. I just kept waiting for something scary to happen, and it never did. Nothing made me pull my covers up over my face or get up and turn some more lights on.

I told my friend that it was not a scary book, per say; but more an old time ghost story told by kids at summer camp about a scary house up the road from camp. The “scary” was more that you were on pins and needles WAITING for something scary. LOL

At first I was really surprised that the powers that be in Hollywood adapted this book to film. It’s a ghost story but with no big “BOO!” moments. But the more I think about it, this may be the one instance where the movie is better than the book. I can totally see where having some “visuals” would help intensify the story.

Good story, but not “horror”. I would classify this book as more “Paranormal” “Suspense”.

In Conclusion:
I liked this book well enough. It was just really slow getting going. I would recommend it to people who like “ghost stories”. I also have full intensions of watching the movie!

Mom Notes:
Not scary, just suspenseful. Deals with sadness and death. Would say ages “advanced” 10
  BunnyCates | Jul 8, 2015 |

( )
  LaMala | Jun 7, 2015 |
Great read. As always, the movie is different, but they did a great job with it. ( )
  adam.d.woodard | Feb 23, 2015 |
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. ( )
1 vote bcquinnsmom | Dec 24, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 138 (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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For Pat and Charles Gardner
First words
It was nine-thirty on Christmas Eve.
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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:59 -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)

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