The Woman in Black – Susan Hill

Finally, after a certain amount of procrastinating and my tenth wedding anniversary, I got round to gathering my thoughts about this highly popular novella. My initial reaction was that I didn’t like it. In fact, I can’t actually see why it’s so popular. But before people start complaining bitterly, I have been known to say the same thing about Dylan Thomas’ masterpiece Under Milk Wood (which I still dislike intensely) so it just means that I have very distinct tastes.

If I’m going to be honest, there’s every possibility that Guillermo del Toro has spoiled me with Crimson Peak. It has everything that I love in a Gothic, with the added bonus of Tom Hiddleston with not many clothes on. But it does mean that The Woman in Black lacked in comparison. Okay, we had a large, dilapidated house in the middle of nowhere, and apparently supernatural happenings with the sighting of the ghost and the screams coming from the marsh fog. But where was the innocent – unless that was Arthur Kipps? Where was the scheming older man intent on manipulating the innocent for his own gain – because that was not Samuel Daily? Come to think of it – where were the women? Apart from Kipps’ second wife and her daughter, who only appear in the opening chapter, the only women who play any part in the story are dead!

At least I managed to stop visualising Daniel Radcliffe as Kipps throughout the book, but I was still disappointed with it. The writing is atmospheric and I rather liked Eel Marsh House – if it ever comes on the market, I’m making an offer – but the villagers seem to be paper thin and slightly stereotypical “country bumpkins”. Kipps is stubborn to the point of caricature as well; he seems to find it impossible to take a hint! In fact, I think I can safely say that I didn’t really find a character that I liked so the fact that this is so short was a bit of a saving grace.

It’s not a bad book really, I am being quite unfair. It is well written and not overlong – I’ve read too many novels lately that could easily have been half the published length and been a better book for it. As a ghost story, it’s not that bad and as I said, it’s very atmospheric and, in places, quite creepy. It doesn’t bear much relationship to the film, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and I think is more effective that way. I just didn’t like it, so I can’t really recommend it. But it’s interesting to see what can be done with the Victorian Christmas ghost story.

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