Home » Audiobooks » Flashback Friday: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Flashback Friday: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

PUBLISHER: Long Barn Books

LENGTH: 4 hrs, 36 min

SOURCE: purchased, audiobook

SUMMARY: The Woman in Black is both a brilliant exercise in atmosphere and controlled horror and a delicious spine-tingler — proof positive that this neglected genre, the ghost story, isn’t dead after all.

What true readers do not yearn, somewhere in the recesses of their hearts, for a really literate, first-class thriller — one that chills the body but warms the soul with plot, perception, and language at once astute and vivid? In other words, a ghost story written by Jane Austen?

Alas, we cannot give you Austen, but Susan Hill’s remarkable Woman in Black comes as close as our era can provide. Set on the obligatory English moor, on an isolated causeway, the story has as its hero Arthur Kipps, an up-and-coming young solicitor who has come north from London to attend the funeral and settle the affairs of Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. The routine formalities he anticipates give way to a tumble of events and secrets more sinister and terrifying than any nightmare: the rocking chair in the deserted nursery, the eerie sound of a pony and trap, a child’s scream in the fog, and most dreadfully — and for Kipps most tragically — the Woman in Black.

REVIEW (Does contain sPoileRs!): When the movie came out in 2012, I wanted to see it mostly because of Daniel Radcliffe. But I didn’t want to see it without having read the book. So, I listened to the audio version which is brilliantly narrated by Paul Ansdell. I was totally into the story and legitimately creeped out in all the right places and ultimately taken by surprise at the ending. A great recipe for a good horror novella.

Hill does a great job of  setting a believably creepy scene and building suspense. Empty house of widowed old woman through whose belongings one must sift for days and days? Perfect plot set up. House still contains a child’s nursery even though widow was aged and alone? Enter tragic family back-story. Said house is completely cut off from everything during high tide? Perfect location for a malevolent ghost who, of course, preys on children. With all of these elements in place, it’s clear that the town’s inhabitants believe in the spectre and that Kipps is not imagining things.

The brilliance of the tension and Creep Factor in Hill’s novella is the simplicity of it. There is no big poltergeist moment. Nothing flashy or fancy happens beyond traditional haunt tactics like blowing out candles and making rocking chairs move in empty rooms. The Woman in Black makes her presence known and shows herself to Kipps without fanfare which is what is so disturbing.

When nothing happens to Kipps while he’s in Eel Marsh House and he makes his way back to London intact, if perhaps a little nervy, there’s a definite sense of anticlimax. But then, a la Dumb and Dumber, Hill TOTALLY REDEEMS HERSELF with  a major twist at the end. The sense of tragedy that readers feel over what brought Jennet to this horrible place where she takes out her wrath on innocent children is echoed in Arthur’s family’s tragic ending. Framing their demise and The Woman in Black’s ultimate “revenge” on Kipps in the mundane elements of his everyday life is a surprising and almost malicious move by the author. With little in the way of resolution after that, the reader is left to digest the Woman in Black’s motives and misery alone.

An excellent read and a definite must for audiobook fans, I was happy to take a stroll back into Gothic horror. Now I just need to make some time to see the movie which was the whole intention in reading the book in the first place.

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