The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

The film adaptation for The Woman in Black from the newly revamped Hammer Studios is one of my modern favorites.  I do so love a classic ghost story, especially one that feels so old school as this one.  Curiosity finally caught up to me, and I finally had to know how the original story compared.

The novel was published in 1983.  The way it reads, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear it was written in 1883, save for a few, subtle telltale points that give away a later date.  It really feels like a Victorian era ghost story in its pacing, its word play, the way it foreshadows absolutely everything so even the most otherwise harmless idea is filled with a sense of dread.  I love that.  It’s positively Dickensian.  The tale even opens on a Christmas Eve.  I mean, c’mon!

The story, for those unfamiliar, deals with junior solicitor Arthur Kipps being sent out by his employer to settle the estate of a client, the recently deceased Mrs. Alice Drablow.  Her mansion, Eel Marsh House, is virtually cutoff from all other civilization, positioned on the Nine Lives Causeway, and reachable only at low tide.  Before even laying eyes on the place, Kipps discovers that the mere mention of the place or its former occupant causes the locals to clam up and suddenly avoid him; “Those who suffer worst say least.”  At the funeral for Mrs. Drablow, the only other witness hangs back from the service, a woman in black with a pale, disturbed face.  As Kipps explores the grounds for the first time, he sees her again, and that’s where the true haunting begins.  The woman in black is obviously a malevolent entity with a sense of evil desperation about her.  Kipps, curiosity overcoming his fear, decides to unravel the mystery and discover all he can about the specter.  As with the best classic ghost stories, the very atmosphere is its own character, but this particular story has both style and bite.  Usually it’s one or the other with a ghost story, with a rare few managing both.

The setup for the story is virtually identical to the later film adaptation, though in standard Hollywood fashion, the film deviates quite a bit from this source material, taking liberties especially in the final third of the story.  I had a feeling that might be the case.  Part of the reason I wanted to read the original.  Regardless, I heartily enjoyed the novel’s presentation from beginning to end.  My only regret is I listened this audiobook in broad daylight at work instead of in the dark.  Ghost stories always work better after dark.


4 stars

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