Book #74

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

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.

I usually like to read books first before I see the film adaptation, but this one I’ve done in reverse. After getting myself into quite the situation of fear in the cinema, and screaming like a teenager in a nineties slasher film, I have no idea why I bought this. It’s been on my list since around 2012 or 2013, and I’ve been too frightened to pick it up as I scare pathetically easily.

And I was truly afraid. Although the film relied on jump scares throughout, Hill employs much more terrifying techniques to convey fear and panic - a slow build-up creating sensations of dread, indecipherable sounds, a gloomy setting, the helplessness of isolation, and, of course, a mysterious woman in black who doesn’t jump out of the shadows, but lingers in plain sight.

In fact, the woman does very little but linger; the skill here is in Hill’s descriptions of setting and of her woman herself. Her demeanor, her face wasting away, and her uncanny ability to dissolve into the shadows were all depicted in such a chilling manner that it could only lead to panic and fear rising in my throat.

Despair, darkness, and desolation - I enjoyed all three but I’m still glad to be rid of them. It could be a while before I steel myself into reading another supernaturally charged story; I’ve only just stopped looking over my shoulder a week later.