Sunday, 10 January 2010

The Woman In Black by Susan Hill

I intended to read this over Christmas, but since reading didn't happen much at all over Christmas, I settled down and read The Woman in Black on New Year's day instead. This is a story narrated by Arthur Kipps, about an event that happened to him at some point in his past. Although actually he is not narrating, he is writing it down, as he cannot bring himself to speak of the events. He is writing at a time in his life when he is happy with his wife and step children all gathered together for Christmas. As his family are amusing themselves telling fanciful ghost stories around the fire, he slopes off to remember his own, very real ghost story, which is the story told in this book.

Working in a solicitors firm, Arthur Kipps is sent north to deal with the affairs of a long standing client of the firm and attend the funeral. When he arrives in the town, he discovers that no-one else will be attending the funeral and no-one is willing to speak to him about the lady, or the property he has to visit to recover papers. As this is a ghost story, it is obvious that all is not going to go well, and the chain of events are kicked off with Arthur's sighting of a mysterious, sick looking woman in black at the funeral.

Arthur soon learns that the people in the town are frightened of this woman, and are not willing to talk to him about the family, so it is left to him to piece together the facts from his sojourn out at the dead woman's house. It is a creepy atmospheric tale, complete with swirling fog, ghostly noises and a gothic house that can only be reached at certain times of day due to the tide covering the route in and out. The atmosphere is built up slowly and expertly, with Arthur starting out quite blase about the whole affair, but gradually becoming convinced of the malevolent nature of the place. It is not just the actual presence that is responsible for the haunting, it seems as if the house and the land it stands on is malevolent as the actual ghost.

Arthur becomes more and more convinced of the supernatural elements of the place as he experiences more, and his investigations into the paperwork reveal more and more about the family history of the family that lived in the house. I think I liked the mystery element of this book as much as I liked the Ghost story element. Obviously, the two are intertwined, as the mystery itself is the mystery of who the house is haunted by, and why. And the ending comes very suddenly and shocked me, even though I have spoken to a few people who said they saw it coming.

I really enjoyed this. It was short and quick to read, but good spooky fare for new years day.


Lesley said...

Oooh, I loved this book and the cover art of the one you posted is gorgeous!

Jo said...

Lesley, I loved it too. I think I need to read more by Susan Hill. I think the cover on this one really fits the mood of the book.