Friday, October 7, 2011
by Susan Hill
David R. Godine
2002 (first published 1982)
In this video age, when it takes more and more gore and special effects to frighten audiences, it doesn't seem possible that a book relying on words to create a terrifying tone would be equal to the task. Yet Susan Hill's The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story is more than equal to the task--truly a delightfully frightening read. It's no wonder the adapted play is the second longest running play in London's history, having played in the West End since 1989.
Arthur Kipps, our hero, is challenged by his stepson to tell a ghost story one Christmas, but Arthur, who has a true ghost story to tell, does not feel that Christmas is the appropriate setting for his horrifying tale. He does decide it's time to write down his story, which begins, appropriately, in a London pea-souper on a Monday afternoon in November. Arthur, when still a young but arrogant solicitor, is sent by his boss on a journey north to attend the funeral and settle the estate of a Mrs. Alice Drablow. Mrs. Drablow's home, Eel Marsh House, sits on an English moor on the isolated Nine Lives Causeway. Arthur intends to stay at her house until he can wade through all of her many papers; Mrs. Drablow's local solicitor tries--without success--to dissuade Arthur from this plan.
Since Arthur's arrival, many strange and frightening things begin happening: the odd reaction of the local people when they learn he is attending Mrs. Drablow's funeral; the 20 or so quiet, unsmiling, and motionless children lined up along the fence by the church after the funeral; the creepy, realistic screams from the foggy marsh; the creaking of the rocking chair in the nursery; and--most tragically for Arthur--the appearance of the woman in black. The Woman in Black, eerie and creepy throughout, has a sublimely terrifying ending.
Halloween's still a few weeks off, but it's not too soon to read a good ghost story, and, although The Woman in Black is a book marketed to adults, high-school and mature middle-school readers will also enjoy this one. Incidentally, Daniel Radcliffe, aka Harry Potter, will star as Arthur Kipps in the movie version in theaters next February.