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A blog for everything bookish

Friday, 9 March 2012

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Given the hype surrounding the movie, it was fairly inevitable that someone, at some point, was bound to offer me a read of Susan Hill's said-to-be spooky novella, The Woman in Black. So when a friend offered to lend it to me I thought 'hey, why not?' After all I quite like ghostly stories and it's been a while since I read anything genuinely scary, and in advance of watching the movie (we'll wait for DVD) I would prefer to read the book. So I said yes, and she gave me the book and after I'd finished reading something else which I haven't blogged about yet I picked it up and started reading.

Phew! Took me a while to get going there didn't it? And that was my experience with reading The Woman in Black. It's only a short book, a novella really, around 200 pages long. So when, after getting about 50 pages in, I was still waiting for something significant to happen it got me a bit worried. And to be honest, throughout this nicely written gothic-Victorian style (whilst being neither Victorian nor gothic) book not much really did happen. He saw a woman at a funeral. He heard some noises, saw her again, heard some rumours, got a bit stressed. But as I was expecting a spine-chilling ghostly story what I got fell a little, or rather a lot, short. And the ending felt a bit rushed, and a little forced too.

And whilst I write this, I have to admit that it all sounds a bit negative and perhaps, just perhaps, I am being a little unfair. The thing about this story, and the hype that currently surrounds it, is that I had expectations of it. I had heard from reviews elsewhere that this is a scary story. And I had seen from the billboards for the movie, and people who have seen the movie, that this is a scary movie and therefore must be a scary story. And when it wasn't. When it failed to elicit even the slightest rumblings of nervousness from me, I was disappointed.

There is a lot to like about The Woman in Black. It's nicely written for a start, and the characters (perhaps excepting Stella) are well drawn, authentic and believable. The setting is beautifully described, and you really get the sense of the house and its surroundings, the creeping, unexpected fogs and the desolation. The local characters come across well, and in general it feels like an authentically written period book, with a bit of a ghostly overtone. And if you read it with that in mind, it's a decent book. Easy to read and engaging, if a little slow paced.

So forget that it's supposed to be as scary as scary and you'll probably find The Woman in Black a nice read. As for me....

The Woman in Black receives a disappointed 6/10 Biis.