Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

'...I turned and began to run, to flee from the graveyard and the ruins and to put the woman at as great a distance behind as I possibly could.  I concentrated everything upon my running, hearing only the thud of my own body on the grass, the escape of my own breath.  And I did not look back.'

While in London a handful of years ago, R and I stopped by the half-price ticket booth in Leicester Square and bought tickets for The Woman in Black playing since 1989 at the Fortune Theatre.  We were prepared to be scared out of our wits but settled into the impossibly tight seating arrangements and smiled as the curtain opened.  The first time I felt any sense of dread or the inclination to scream was when we paid the equivalent of over eight dollars for two tiny cups of ice cream, the sort with a flat spoon under the lid, at intermission.

The second act was something different altogether with the audience screaming several times and even jumping out of their seats at one point.  It took me days to get the final scene out of my mind and I'll never think of rocking chairs with my old sense of blissful relaxation ever again.

Arthur Kipps, in hopes of putting some demons to rest, writes about a ghostly incident during his early career as a solicitor in London.  Sent to organize documents at Eel Marsh House after the death of Mrs Drablow, he encounters an eerie sense of reserve about the place from the residents of the village.  Located some distance away and due to the tide, the house virtually becomes an island as the water converges over the narrow trail leading up to it.  Add in some dense fog, screeching birds and a sucking bog and you'd have to be half-mad to spend the night there.  Or young and desperate to gain the respect of your senior colleagues at the law firm.

The spectre of a woman dressed in black, with a ravaged face of pale skin pulled tight against her features, haunts Arthur.  And quite literally things do go 'bump' in the night.  All of which threaten to scare poor Arthur to death as he digs through Mrs Drablow's pertinent papers with only a scruffy dog named Spider for company.  The discovery of a packet of letters and three death certificates provide some answers but I'm certainly not going to tell you any more about that!

Susan Hill has the formula to get your heart pounding down to perfection.  There is no blood or gore but every time the fog appears or the night would close in, I would tuck my chin down into my shirt and pull my knees up on the sofa.  The movie version of The Woman in Black is set to open next month.  Judging by the trailer there has been plenty of liberty taken with Hill's novel but I'm very much looking forward to being scared out of my wits for the third time by this story.


  1. The Woman in Black is the best ghost story I've ever read - hope the movie does it justice!

  2. I had nightmares after reading this - I woke up convinced that the wardrobe was the woman in black.

  3. Sounds very good and scary! I will have to read this one. Thanks for the recommendation. And there is a movie! I will look forward to this.

  4. Right. You've convinced me.

    28 holds at TPL, and 8 copies.

  5. JoAnn, Hopefully the film isn't hokey but I'll probably be watching through my hands anyway.

    Verity, There has been some weird dreams at my house as well! And while I've got you, I'm not able to comment on your blog lately. Browser trouble, me thinks. Sorry.

    Sunday Taylor, You can watch a trailer on youtube if you like!

    Susan, You're lucky! BPL had one copy and a certain customer didn't bring it back so we're all out. I thing you'll enjoy the book, dare you to read it at night...alone.

  6. Susan Hill's ghost stories are always full of atmosphere but WIB is very creepy. What is it about fog that is so frightening? Edith Wharton's ghost stories also leave me feeling that I can't go to bed without turning on all the lights.

  7. I saw the play last night for the second time - still just as scary! That rocking chair gets me so badly...WHY does he keep going back into the room for goodness' sake?!?!? I screamed my head off!

    Looking forward to the film - I'm interested to see how they'll spin it out and whether they'll do it like a film within a film like it's a play within a play or whether they'll just do it as a straight story starting with Arthur going to Eel Marsh. Intriguing!

  8. I just read this book 2 days ago..and I couldn't sleep the night. It is so perfectly chilling.I will never forget the description of the rocking chair - "Bump Bump. Pause. Bump Bump. Pause" Imagine waking up to that sound..
    Looking forward to the movie is an adaptation but it seems to have captured the essence of it