Now, this is a seriously scary book and I would not recommend that you do what I did, which was to prop myself up in bed one night, cup of chocolate and dunking biscuits on bedside table, curtains drawn and book in hand. It's not very long I thought to myself, I can read this straight through and then snuggle down in bed and go to sleep. Those of you out there who have read this book are no doubt already sniggering and you will be right to do so.
This is one of the scariest books I have ever read. Fact. Why? There are no dead bodies, there are no ghouls, no vampires, no bats, no blood, no Pits and definitely no Pendulums, but what there is, and in abundance, is ATMOSPHERE. Susan Hill creates the atmosphere and then hands over to you, the reader, to scare yourself witless.
So what do we have? A rather bumptious young lawyer, Arthur Kipps, comes to a little town on the fens to attend the funeral of one of his clients who lived and died alone in a house on the marshes. He is engaged to be married and hopes to be promoted soon and that carrying out this assignment well will do him nothing but good. He arrives at the funeral and sees an emaciated, dreadfully ill looking Woman in Black in the graveyard. When asking who she is his companion goes white, will not answer, shakes and drags him away. So, we know straight away that she is a ghost.
At this stage, all is set fair and the reader is thinking O goody this is going to be creepy. Well, just how creepy it is going to be is VERY creepy. Arthur sets off to Eel Marsh House to go through the papers and blithely announces that it makes no sense to be driven backwards and forwards each day and it will be much more convenient to stay in the house until he finishes his task. Oh the arrogance of youth.
He is driven across a causeway to the house
'we went on in silence save for a hissing silky sort of sound........I looked up ahead and saw, as if rising out of the water itself, a tall gaunt House of grey stone with a slate roof that now gleamed steelily in the light.........the most astonishingly situated house I had ever seen, or could every conceivably have imagined, isolated uncompromising'
I am going to be really mean and stop right here and go no further in writing about this book. The scene is set and it is now up to you to purchase the Woman in Black and read it for yourself. All I will say is that Kipps's stay at Eel Marsh House reduced him to terror and panic; the wind howls at night; he hears a thudding noise in a locked room at the end of a corridor which turns out to be a rocking chair rocking on its own; he hears a child crying in the darkness and the sounds of a carriage, with its passengers being sucked down into the marshes surrounding the house.
'......the combination of the peculiar,isolated place and the sudden appearance of the woman and the dreadfulness of her expression began to fill me with fear. Indeed, I had never in my life been so possessed by it, never known my knees to tremble and my flesh to creep, and then to turn cold as stone, never known my heart to give a great lurch, as if it would leap into my dry mouth and then begin pounding in my chest like a hammer on an anvil, never know myself gripped and held fast by such dread and horror and apprehension of evil'
Just remember, do NOT read this book as I did, late at night. I can tell you now you will not be able to go to sleep afterwards. Should you decide to make a hot drink to help you nod off, that too is impossible. You will be too afraid to go to the kitchen.....