The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story (The Woman in Black #1)
By Susan Hill
Genre: Paranormal/Classic Fiction
Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor in London, is summoned to Crythin Gifford to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow, and to sort through her papers before returning to London. It is here that Kipps first sees the woman in black and begins to gain an impression of the mystery surrounding her. From the funeral he travels to Eel Marsh House and sees the woman again; he also hears the terrifying sounds on the marsh.
Despite Kipps’s experiences he resolves to spend the night at the house and fulfil his professional duty. It is this night at Eel Marsh House that contains the greatest horror for Kipps. Kipps later discovers the reasons behind the hauntings at Eel Marsh House. The book ends with the woman in black exacting a final, terrible revenge.
The Woman in Black is one of those rare instances of watched film before reading book. It doesn’t happen often. And I feel confident in saying that in this case it had no affect on my experience. Admittedly, it has been several years since I have watched the film, but still I think that my previous statement would hold true regardless of time passed. I may re-watch this weekend to test that (no scratch that – nonhusband is leaving for week, no ghost stories. Probably will anyways. I live to torment myself apparently.)
Told through the recounting of a very pragmatic narrator Arthur Kipps, this is a classic tale of the paranormal. Attending the funeral of Mrs. Drablow and her estate affairs at Eel Marsh house, the young solicitor is visited by an unwelcome guest, the Woman in Black. As Mr. Kipps discovers the purpose of this visit and its significance, it soon comes to a conclusion in one final moment that will forever alter his life. Now, years later he has decided to commit the events that transpired during his time in Crythin Gifford to pen and tell his story.
“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.”
I find it important to mention that while this is a dark and eerie tale, it moves at a very slow but not intolerable pace. This is not a thriller. We are gifted with a writing style that is elegant and effortlessly transports the reader into Victorian era England, setting the stage for a wonderfully traditional ghost story. The author utilizes all elements available to construct a remarkably atmospheric and melancholic read.
Admittedly this is not the “terrifying” read one might expect. Shelving it as horror is an undoubted stretch. But do not discredit its merit as far as ghost stories are concerned. First published in 1983, the author has brilliantly established the air of a true classic read. While it does not harbor the gruesome components we have come to know and expect from such a story today, if you allow yourself to be fully immersed within the successful world building and story telling, you soon discover that the underlying plot of revenge is haunting enough in its own right.
“It was true that the ghastly sounds I had heard through the fog had greatly upset me but far worse was what emanated from and surrounded these things and arose to unsteady me, an atmosphere, a force – I do not exactly know what to call it – of evil and uncleanness, of terror and suffering, of malevolence and bitter anger”
Cleverly narrated and written to read as having been authentically conceived in the 19th century, there is a lot to be appreciated and admired within the pages of this chilling tale of revenge. And therein lies the real accomplishment of The Woman in Black. This somewhat Gothic tale is likely to find a welcomed home among the many fans of Poe and more classic tales of fright. A slow burn with a dramatic ending, I can only recommend experiencing The Woman in Black personally to fully understand all that it has to offer. This is what ghost stories are made of.