Monday, 2 May 2011

Review: The Woman in Black - Susan Hill

Published: 1983, Vintage
Pages: 160 pages, paperback
Series?: No, standalone
Acquired: Purchased myself

Summary (from Goodreads): Proud and solitary, Eel Marsh House surveys the windswept reaches of the salt marshes beyond Nine Lives Causeway. Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor, is summoned to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow, the house's sole inhabitant, unaware of the tragic secrets which lie hidden behind the shuttered windows.

It is not until he glimpses a wasted young woman, dressed all in black, at the funeral, that a creeping sense of unease begins to take hold, a feeling deepened by the reluctance of the locals to talk of the woman in black - and her terrible purpose.

My review: Somehow I managed to get to twenty three years old without reading (or watching) The Woman in Black. Strange, right? Especially for a horror fan. What's even more absurd is that I'd somehow managed to get to twenty three without knowing much about the story at all. I'd been told by various friends that the play was the scariest thing they'd ever seen and I had to go and see it but I decided I had to read the book first, especially as I'd heard such brilliant things about Susan Hill (yes, she is brilliant).

The Woman in Black is a short novel at 166 pages so it's easy to race through in one sitting - you'll want to as well. The story is utterly captivating and I couldn't turn away once I'd started reading. I had absolutely no idea what the big climax would be but I knew from page one it was going to be completely terrifying. It was. It really, really was. I finished it almost a month ago and I'm still unsettled!

This is absolutely a classic horror story. The prose is beautiful and edited to perfection - no words are wasted and I'm desperate to see the play, if only to hear Hill's beautiful words brought to life. The descriptions of Eel Marsh House are fantastic (and made me frequently think of Du Maurier's Rebecca) and the sense of foreboding from the outset is huge - the tension builds and builds until the reader is reduced to a whimpering wreck, that's not an exaggeration, I promise.

First line: 'It was nine-thirty on Christmas Eve.'

Plot: 5/5
Writing: 5/5
Characters: 3/5
Cover: 3/5
Total: 16/20 (B+)

Alternative covers:


  1. This sounds fab! will have to check it out :)

  2. I got this one for Christmas and I can't wait to read it soon! I love Susan Hill's books.


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