The Woman in Black

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Woman in Black
by Susan Hill

Now this is my kind of ghost story. In the past I've enjoyed books like The Turning of the Screw and The Haunting of Hill House, but have always been left feeling just a little bit frustrated. You aren't quite sure if they are ghosts stories or tales of madness. You can't trust the narrator, which makes them both wonderful and infuriating.

The Woman is Black doesn't take that approach. It is absolutely a ghost story and it scared me more than I'd like to admit (but in a good way!)

A young solicitor, Arthur Kipps, is dispatched to a remote corner of England to resolve the affairs of a recently deceased client, Mrs. Drablow. She had lived alone in a huge, old mansion, Eel Marsh House, on the outskirts of town. Kipps quickly realizes that things won't be as simple as he'd hoped, but every attempt he makes to get more information is thwarted. The townspeople's furtive glances and refusal to talk about Eel Marsh House heighten his suspicions that there's something very wrong with the house.

I think if I could sum up the book in one word it would be: satisfying. It perfectly fulfilled my own personal taste for a ghost story. I don't like graphic scenes of horror, but I love a good scare. I also want good characters and a believable plot. This one had the perfect balance of all of those factors and on top of that, the writing was excellent.

It has the best and most disturbing description of fog that I've ever read...

"It was a mist like a damp, clinging cobwebby thing, fine and yet impenetrable. It smelled and taste quite different from the yellow filthy fog of London; that was choking and thick and still, this was salty, light and pale and moving in front of my eyes all the time. I felt confused, teased by it, as though it were made up of millions of live fingers that crept over me, hung on to me and then shifted away again."

Another reason I loved this story is Kipps himself. So often ghost stories seem to contain weak lead characters that are easily frightened. I think I trusted Kipps' description of the events more because he was determined not to be easily scared off by rumors. The story scares with both the tangible and intangible, both scary in their own way. For example...

"At that moment I began to doubt my own reality."

Is anything more terrifying than that?

I absolutely recommend this one for anyone and everyone who likes a good scare.

I had the opportunity to see The Woman in Black on stage in London and it was terrifying as a play as well. It's pretty impressive when a ghost story is so good that it can scare you in multiple formats.

Bonus: This book was made into a movie starring none other than Harry Potter himself. It's release date is February 3, 2012 and I will be first in line to see it. Check out the trailer here (seriously, chills).

I read this for the R.I.P. Challenge hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings here.

For more R.I.P reviews visit here.


Ellen said...

That is quite a description of fog. As if I didn't already have enough books I want to read for the rip challenge! I've been planning to reread The Turning of the Screw, but I love the idea of reading a book with a more trustworthy narrator after that - I love the idea of books you can't quite figure out, when you don't even know what parts of the story to trust, but they can be exhausting.

Jillian said...

I NEED to read this. I have no idea why I have never, and why I haven't actually heard much about this :/ *shame* Oh well. I'll remedy that hopefully soon.

Kristi said...

I'm glad it lived up to the hype. Before I read The Turn of the Screw, I thought it was a ghost story, but I'm convinced the governess was just nuts. I didn't think it was very scary so I'm glad to hear The Woman in Black is.

I saw the trailer for The Woman in Black while watching the last Harry Potter film. It looks really good and it made me want to pick up the book. I even looked for it at my library but didn't have any luck. I'll definitely have to try to reserve it.

Sandy Nawrot said...

OMG this is just what I need! Love creepy stories like this. I'll see if I can fit it into RIP this year!

Amanda said...

I just finished reading this too and it was definitely creepy! It reminded me in many ways of Turn of the Screw, but more satisfying and less verbose/dense.

I haven't seen the trailer yet but I'm not sure I'll want to see it in theatres. I'm not great with scary movies!

Kailana said...

I have heard good things about this book. I read The Man in the Picture earlier this year and enjoyed it, so I should try and read this one next it seems.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Melissa,

So many people have raved about this book, it is with shame that I admit to not having read it, despite the fact that the author is English!!

I really will get around to remedying the situation just as soon as possible, especially with that great paragraph selection where fog is described so eloquently.

I see your various selection of cover art for the book, however, there is yet another current version available from

So confusing, why can't a book have a single title and standard cover art everywhere it is published, so that we all know where we stand.

Great post by the way.


Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

It wasn't until your last paragraph that I realized why the name of the book was familiar! I'd like to read it before watching the movie.

(and the fog's description is creepy indeed!)

DesLily said...

yup, i need to read this.. AND see the movie!!

Anna said...

I love creepy and satisfying and I haven't found them both at the same time yet. Must keep this one in mind!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Ellen - I do love some books with unreliable narrators, but I feel like they aren't as scary as they are thought provoking.

Kristi - I agree, Turning of the Screw wasn't scary, but it was interesting.

Amanda - Exactly, this had everything Turning was missing.

Kailana - I hadn't heard of that one, but it's on my TBR lsit now!

Yvonne - Sometimes I love it when there are multiple covers for a book, because one may not strike my fancy, but another does.

Jillian /Sandy /Alex /DesLily /Anna - It's definitely worth reading!

Jenny said...

I mildly dislike Susan Hill as a person, which is the only reason I haven't read this book. I love ghost stories really, and I'm totally going to see the film. It looks brilliantly spooky.

Anbolyn (Gudrun's Tights) said...

I read this last year and thought it was fabulous. Very atmospheric scary instead of gory scary.

Jennifer | Mrs Q Book Addict said...

I've been seeing this one around lately. First, I love the cover! I really want to read this one, it's not typically a book I would choose but blogger have me sold. I need to try it.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jenny - I actually know absolutely nothing about the author, so maybe I'll keep it that way.

Anbolyn - Exactly, the atmosphere is perfect!

Mrs. Q: Book Addict - Book blogging is dangerous that way. I'm constantly adding books to my TBR list that I read about in others' reviews.

Anonymous said...

an excellent review. and you are so right about that description of the fog!--very disturbing.

Sounds like a perfectly scary read I will have to try out.

~L (omphaloskepsis)

Heather said...

I'm so so so happy you loved this one. It's one of my all-time-favorite RIP reads. You should check out The Man in the Picture by her. It's very short, and very creepy. Just as good as The Woman in Black.

Chrisbookarama said...

I'm always more scared by the things that aren't shown so this was a great scary book for me! There was so much that was heard but not seen.

Carl V. Anderson said...

I just skimmed your review because I plan on picking this up from the library this week and reading it for myself. Great to see your 4 stars though, makes me have high hopes.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

omphaloskepsis - I hope you check it out.

Heather - It's been added to the list, though I may save it for next year's RIP!

Chrisbookarama - Yes, just like in scary movies. It's so much scaries when you can't see the monster or you don't know what exactly it is.

Carl V. - 5 stars, best I could give it!

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I went to buy this book the other day and because they're republishing it due to the film that's coming out soon with Daniel Radcliffe, I can't get it until the middle of October! Argh.

Kate said...

I read this for the RIP as well, and what a great book! You're right: there's no ambiguity whatsoever about this being a ghost story. I'm also very, very much looking forward to the film, which looks like it's done a fantastic job with that oh-so-creepy atmosphere.

Thanks for the review! Happy reading to you.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Natalie - Oh man! I feel so divided when a book is made into a movie. It's good that it encourages more people to read the book, but it also usually distorts the story. So it's a double-edged sword.

Kate - The movie does look really scary!