28 October 2010

Review: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

I really should have posted this before my list of scary books for Halloween, but with one thing and another I wasn’t able to.

Genre: Thriller/horror, ghost story
Year of publication: 1984
Setting & time: England, at a guess some time between 1920 and 1950

The story begins with a happy family group at Christmas. They start  telling ghost stories, but when asked to contribute a story of his own, the father rushes from the room, being overcome with memories of his own terrifying encounter with a ghost. He then decides to tell his story in writing, and takes the reader back to his youth. As a young solicitor he had been sent to a lonely coastal village to attend the funeral of a customer of the law firm he worked for and go over her papers. She had lived on an island that was only accessible at low tide and on his first visit to the island he became aware that it was haunted, but found it hard to get any of the villagers to tell him about the haunting. His arrival agitates the ghost and his decision to stay in the house while he is finishing up his business there is going to cost him dearly.

This is a fairly straightforward ghost story and the ghostly activity is pretty standard and even predictable, but I didn’t choose it as a top spooky tale for that, but for the eerie atmosphere and the tension and sense of expectation that Hill manages to create in it. The ghost’s back story is heart-rending and terrible and up to the last chapter some readers may even feel sympathy for her, but the last chapter (the twist in the tale) is likely to remove that. For added effect, I recommend choosing a stormy night or a dark, cold, foggy day to read it. 4+ stars.

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