by Susan Hill, John Lawrence (Illustrator)
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 The Hound of the Baskervilles. 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 [Spoiler Alert!]
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.
Reviewed by Ademilson Moraes (guest contributor).