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The Woman in Black by Susan Hill - Review

Thursday, April 21, 2016

I probably mentioned before that this year my friend Laura and I have been swapping books each month. It was my idea to broaden my horizons a bit, because she tends to read much more highbrow stuff than I do, and we thought it would be nice to share our favourite novels with each. I read Carry On to start with, and then she lent me a book called A God in Every Stone which I didn't finish (but plan to). Most recently she sent me The Woman in Black. While it's not a Young Adult book by any stretch, it has been taught at GCSE and A level for ages, so I felt like it was appropriate to review it.

I heard of the books years and years ago but always thought I wouldn't like it. While it's relatively modern (published in 1983), it is written in the style of Gothic Horror which I find difficult to read, so I've never so much as picked it up. But once I started reading I barely put it down, I really enjoyed it and it kept me intrigued right to the end.

It doesn't fit into my normal review format, so I'll just write about it.

It's Christmas Eve and Arthur Kapps is spending the evening with his second wife and her four children, and her daughter's husband. Arthur is contented in his country home, but when he goes back into the room with his family, they've begun to tell ghost stories to entertain each other. They ask Arthur to join in, but he gets upset and leaves the room. He then begins writing down his story.

Years previously, when Arthur is 23 and working as a lawyer in London, he is sent to the east of the UK to deal with the estate of a lady called Mrs Drablow. She had lived alone on an island just off the coast of a town called Crythin Gifford, in a house called Eel Marsh House, which is cut off from the mainland when the tide is in but which is otherwise accessible by a causeway. Arthur is eager to escape the smog of London, but doesn't want to leave his fiancee Stella behind, but doesn't expect to be away for long.

The funeral of Mrs Drablow is held on Arthur's first morning in the town, attended by only himself and the local solicitor Jerome. However, in the church and then in the graveyard, Arthur spots a woman dressed all in black, in clothes from decades previous, and with a ravaged face. The children in the playground next to the churchyard also watch her, but when Arthur tries to ask Jerome about the mysterious woman, Jerome refuses to answer.

Arthur goes to the island, driven by a man called Keckwick in a pony and trap, and sees the woman in black on the island, at the family graveyard. He begins to think that she can't be real. In the night, he hears a mysterious thumping noise from a locked room in the house and is scared. He sets off to leave the house, but a thick mist has rolled in and he can barely see more than a few feet in front of him. He hears a pony and trap and thinks Keckwick has come back for him... But has he?

I'm going to not spoil the plot any further, but I will say that it is a really atmospheric and creepy book. I really wasn't breathing at one point, I swear! The whole atmosphere is oppressive and scary and the house is terrifying. There's a reason this book has become a modern classic. I thought the ending was horrific, so do read it and let me know what you think!

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