Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Who doesn't love a good ghost story? They bring us back to our childhood days of sleepovers and fireside tales. They unite us with the shivers and goosebumps that race down our skin, leaving us wondering and weary of those bumps in the night.

If you're looking to resurrect that feeling again, check out Susan Hill's The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story. The book first came out in 1983 and has since lived a healthy life, spawning a play and, most recently, a movie starring Daniel Radcliff of Harry Potter fame. It was the trailer to the movie that hooked my interest.

We've got it in both book form (FIC HILL) and audiobook (AD FIC HILL). With the book, you benefit from John Lawrence's stark, somber illustrations. With the audiobook, Ralph Cosham's narration lends a wonderfully moody atmosphere to the tale.

As someone who enjoys a good scare but doesn't want to be scared witless, The Woman in Black struck a good balance. It has the feel of a story from another time, not just because it's set in early 20th century Edwardian England, but because of the language Hill uses, which harkens back to the gothic novels of Mary Shelley or Bram Stoker.

Arthur Kipps narrates the tragic story:
I was then thirty-five and I had been a widower for the past twelve years. I had no taste at all for social life and, although in good general health, was prone to occasional nervous illnesses and conditions, as a result of the experiences I will come to relate. Truth to tell, I was growing old well before my time, a sombre, pale-complexioned man with a strained expression — a dull dog.
In the ensuing pages, we learn what, exactly, led to Kipps' premature aging: As a newly minted 23-year-old solicitor (that's what the British call their lawyers), Kipps is sent to the remote village of Crythin Gifford to attend to the legal affairs of one Mrs. Alice Drablow, recently deceased, of Eel Marsh House.

The unsuspecting Kipps likes the idea of an expedition and a rambling estate to explore. Well, the joke's on him. He soon finds himself growing increasingly uneasy and fearful as he sees and hears things that cannot be explained, beginning with the titular woman in black, whom he first spots at Mrs. Drablow's funeral. Eel Marsh House itself, cut off regularly from the roads by the tide, lends little sense of safety. In fact, when Kipps decides to stay at the house out of convenience, this just makes matters for him worse.

I'll leave you to uncover Mrs. Drablow's secrets but needless to say, Kipps' recounting has everything we've come to expect of ghost stories: creepy noises, moving objects, haunted houses and angry apparitions. In that sense, The Woman in Black covers little new ground. But if it's a traditional spooky story you're after, Hill's story should fit the bill quite nicely.

What's your favorite ghost story? Share your suggestions in the comments.

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