I was familiar with the name Susan Hill from that wonderful little book Howard's End Is on the Landing, a kind of compendium of personal favorites from books and literature. I was familiar with The Woman in Black from the film, which I had wanted to see, but never really had the opportunity. So, what a wonderful convergence when I discovered that the film I wanted to see came from a source that I knew I would enjoy reading.
And, I was not wrong. The Woman in Black has the form of a classic ghost story--it even starts on Christmas Eve as children are sharing their made-up ghost stories and the experience plunges our first person narrator into a re-experience of his own horrifying ghost story.
Arthur, a young lawyer, is sent from London to the middle of nowhere--a small town at the very edges of a great swamp/marsh where stands Eelmarsh House--the home of an eccentric old woman who has recently died. His job is to go through the papers in the house, extract those that seem most germane to the estate and take them back to the London Solicitor who is in charge of the will/estate.
From there we get the classics forms--an apparition, sounds in the night, lights going out during a storm, the flashlight broken, the sound of what? a rocking chair? a cradle? a scream in the night? the gurgling of an engulfed pony car? There's a locked room with no key at the end of the hall and a door that opens mysteriously--beckoning.
Ms. Hill's performance with these well-worn elements is exquisite. Her prose is beautifully fashioned of some short, almost staccato sentences followed by long and luxurious almost-rants as the perfervid imagination unleashes all the horrors of the human psyche.
Make no mistake, this is a ghost story, a true ghost story that would please the likes of M. R. James. It is a superb companion to the works of James, (both M. R. and Henry) and Shirley Jackson. Do yourself a favor and reserve a copy for late October, early November reading--you'll be glad that you did. Oh, but don't read it while you're alone--it truly creeps up on you.
Highly recommended *****