Many may remember 'The Woman in Black' as a 2012 film starring Daniel Radcliff, in one of his first significant roles outside of the Harry Potter series. Others may also know it as a long-running (the second-longest in history) west end stage play, or even the 1989 British Tv film shown on Christmas eve. But before it hit the stage or the big (or small) screen, this gothic story began life as a 1983 novel by Susan Hill. How does it hold up today, though?
After being asked to tell a ghost story by his step-children on Christmas eve, old hidden memories reemerge for lawyer Arthur Kipps. Seeking closure from some horrifying events he went through years ago, Arthur decides to put his own real-life horror story to paper. He proceeds to narrate to us the circumstances surrounding his attending the funeral of one Mrs Alice Drablow and his settling of her estate as a young solicitor, where a series of strange hauntings and the appearance of a woman dressed in black result in long-lasting ramifications.
An Ode To The Classic Ghost Stores
Imitation may well be the sincerest form of flattery, and there's no denying that The Woman in Black takes more than just a little inspiration from classic British ghost stories. It's tempting to write it off for not being the real deal as a result, and perhaps it isn't, but it's as close as you'll get from any modern writer. In terms of writing prowess, Susun Hill more than holds her own against the greats as well. The Woman in Black is a very accessible and readable book, but the prose still has a decent amount of gothic stylings to suck the reader into the illusion of reading an older text.
What about the actual story and characters, though? Well, for the most part, it's a lot of what readers have seen many times before (though not entirely, as we'll get into), just done very well. From creepy marshes, cagey locals to an ominous Manor house, the book uses many old tropes to create horror. In truth, the book is more spooky than terrifying, but there's nothing necessarily wrong with that.
A Satisfying Conclusion
In many ways, its reliance on tropes makes the Woman in Black almost comforting to read. Until it reaches its final act, that is, by which point you've been lulled into a false sense of security. I won't spoil things for would-be readers, but the climax is a total gut-puncher and makes the read worth it alone. It's all set up nicely through the contrast between our wise and world-weary narrator and his younger, more headstrong self. It's not unpredictable, and there are several clear red flags from the get-go of what will happen, but thanks to some good writing, it doesn't stop the inevitable finale from being any less devastating.
The Woman in Black has become something an institution in British horror. It was not a game-changer by any means, but it has undeniably found its place in the ghost-story canon and has become a must-read for fans of the genre. With its compact length and brilliant ending, there's no reason to pass up on this one either.
Thanks For Reading!
Have you read, or are you planning to read this book? Perhaps you have a similar or different take?
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© 2021 Mike Grindle