‘The Woman in Black’ by Susan Hill

 

The Woman in Black

I’ve seen the stage version of The Woman in Black twice, both times at The Theatre on the Lake in Keswick. The first time was as a young woman, and I came out of the auditorium creeped out, but had enjoyed it immensely. The second time, older, and after I’d had children, I emerged gripped with terror and wondering what had possessed me to go again! I couldn’t face the film.

And now, like an idiot, I’ve gone and read the book.

But maybe, it’s the irresistible pull of the haunted house tale. Like any decent haunted house, however repulsive and forbidding, it malevolently draws its victims in, like moths to a flame. And as with crime, there is no such thing as a victimless horror story.

On the front cover of my copy, which is very beautiful (sinister, but lovely), it states, “The Classic English Ghost Story”, and it is. It’s short; it can easily be read in one sitting. Rather foolishly though, I started this at bedtime, on my own. My husband was still faffing around downstairs, and I realised after the first chapter, that I needed to put it down and finish it during the day. The closed book then seemed to throb ominously on my bedside table, but in fairness, I may have got myself slightly overwrought with anticipation.

So, I’ve finished it today. It’s really an excellent ghost story with a heart-freezing climax. I know this is a book which is studied in schools now and so I’m not going to try to be clever or go into an in-depth analysis, as:

a) It’s unlikely I’d be able to

b) It’s already been done a few hundred thousand times

But for those who haven’t already read it, the premise of the story is this:

In a fictional town in the north-east of England called Crythin Gifford, an old lady, Mrs. Alice Drablow, has died intestate. A firm of London solicitors has been appointed to sift through her personal effects at her home, the aptly named Eel Marsh House. The firm appoints a young solicitor, Arthur Kipps, who is our protagonist. Arthur is keen to further his situation at the firm in order that he may provide well for his life with Stella, his fiancée, and he embarks on the long train journey so that he may firstly attend Mrs. Drablow’s funeral and then get on with the task at hand.

Beyond this, it’s every reader for themselves. It’s so frightening!

Almost every moment of this story is either ominous or terrifying, although we do get the odd minute of reprieve, just to allow the crescendo of tension to build back up.

There is a nauseating sense of isolation, decay and abandonment. The past cannot be changed, nor escaped; time cannot heal.

If you’re looking for a chilling tale to start off the season’s reading, I can’t think of a finer place to start. I am writing this in the cold light of day though. I still have to sleep tonight. Having said that, I’ve somehow managed to book us on a candlelit late night tour of our local ‘haunted’ stately home and bought tickets for a show called ‘Shivers’, all within the next few weeks.

I’m sure my brain must be a bit loose…..

 

 

 

Paperback, 200 pages
Published 2016 by Vintage (first published October 10th 1983)
Original Title
The Woman in Black
Edition Language
English
Series
The Woman in Black #1

The thinning of the veil…

wolf howling at moon

Well, here we are. It’s that time of year again. The nights are closing in; the veil between the worlds of the living and dead are thinning as I speak. Allegedly.

Without fail, I always try to scare myself witless for the next six weeks or so, year-in, year-out, therefore I have further burdened my already double stacked shelves in preparation.

I’m telling myself I’m mad, because first on the list this year is ‘The Woman in Black’ by Susan Hill. I have some experience of this story; twice I have seen it performed at The Theatre on the Lake in Keswick in the Northern Lake District, which is one of my favourite venues. The first time, I came out a bit shaken. The second time, a few years later once I’d had children, I exited the theatre a little bit psychologically damaged. To the point, that when the film with Daniel Radcliffe broke loose several years later, I couldn’t bring myself to watch it!

The books are never as bad though, right?

Also in the wings, I have MR James’ ‘Ghost Stories’, Daphne du Maurier’s ‘The Birds and other stories’, A Discovery of Witches’ by Deborah Harkness, ‘The Witches of New York’ by Ami McKay and I plan to revisit a story that I enjoyed at the time, but didn’t review and that is ‘The Loney’ by Andrew Michael Hurley. I have thought about it so often, and certain parts have really played on my mind in the period since, that I think I owe it a review.

Updates as I get through them. Think of me; I’m a wuss and I have no earthly idea why I do this to myself!

 

‘Rotherweird’ by Andrew Caldecott

Rotherweird CoverWeird science, weird history, weird regulations, weird disappearances, weird murder and some very odd behaviour… Welcome to Rotherweird. I loved this book, what a joy!

A tricky one to review though, as I don’t want to risk spoiling it for anyone and it would be very easily done. I can probably just about get away with the following synopsis:

Rotherweird, in the 1500s, becomes home to twelve exceptionally gifted children, who are seen as such a threat to the Tudor monarchy, that they become secretly isolated. Then, their education begins in earnest.

Fast forward… Rotherweird in the 21st century remains an anomaly. It’s self governing, isn’t on any map and even if you found yourself at the top of Rotherweird Valley, the town itself wouldn’t be visible below.

Guidebooks describe the Rotherweird community as secretive and hostile. If you are defined as an ‘Outsider’, it means they don’t trust you and you aren’t allowed in. Unless there are exceptional circumstances. Should you live in the Rotherweird Valley, but not in the town, you are a ‘Countrysider’; thereby, not only being a bit of a bumpkin, but not to be trusted: you can be let inside the town walls if you’re useful, although not for very long. So there.

Sir Veronal Slickstone (an Outsider), for sinister reasons of his own, hires a prima-donna method actress and a young man who has, up to press, lived the veritable life of a shifty, petty street criminal. Then, forthwith, after some minor preparations, they all get into a big black luxury car and head out, off grid, into Rotherweird. And they’ve been invited. And so has a hapless history teacher called Jonah Oblong, who has been called to interview for a position at Rotherweird School. But he has to find his way there using his wits alone…

(Remember the scene in ‘Salem’s Lot, where the really bad guy turns up in a big black luxury car, and it transpires he’s arrived to take up residence in the boarded up, run down mansion, notorious with the locals? Well, it’s a bit like that.)

So, on to the things I loved about this book, and there are many. It’s very well written, unsurprising considering the author, finely balanced between comedy, adventure, fantasy and tragedy, with a touch of the gothic to it. I would genuinely struggle to assign a genre. It’s a fascinating, intriguing, unfurling macabre story, with well-named, multi-faceted characters, whose motives are difficult to fathom until the moment the author wants you to. The plot thickens all the time; I never lost interest. I did once or twice think I’d been pretty clever in working out some twists and turns, but actually the author leads you there, revealing bit by bit, quite intentionally.

I’d like to just interrupt myself here, and take a minute to pay tribute to the illustrator. She is called Sasha Laika, and she studied figurative art in Moscow. I fervently hope that the process by which she created the artwork in this book was through Andrew Caldecott providing the title of the drawing and then letting her design her wonderful illustrations to it. For example, my favourite one is entitled, ‘Oblong at the Oak: That’s the Twelve-Mile post, that’s the Rotherweird Valley, and you owe me six quid’.
They are fantastic and, even if you are a book Puritan, you may actually be a bit tempted to sharpen your coloured pencils and make a start on the front cover.

If you enjoyed Peake’s Gormenghast, I think you’ll find yourself at home here in Rotherweird. I dare say a Pratchett fan or two will find something to enjoy here too. I don’t think there are any particular age restrictions in terms of inappropriate material. Probably 11 + though, more from a comprehension standpoint than anything else. I mean, I’m 40 and I had to google some things. Ha. For anyone giving it a go, I honestly hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I have.

This reader will be figuratively placing her feet on the nearest decorative black or white tile in range, and enthusiastically tumbling down the weasel hole to land in Wyntertide, for the next installment.

 

Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott, illustrated by Sasha Laika

Published:  Published June 16th 2017 by Jo Fletcher Books (first published May 18th 2017) 
Original Title: Rotherweird
Edition Language: English
Series: Rotherweird #1