The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

It is only appropriate that I should look at a ghost story on this stormy Halloween evening. I understand that both a West End play and a film with Daniel Radcliffe (also known as Harry Potter) have been made, based on this book. I have seen neither of them though I can imagine how the book may lend itself to adaptation for stage or, even more so, for a cinematographic recreation. Especially if special effects come into play. The story is about a young solicitor, Arthur Kipps, travelling to a remote, derelict house on the outskirts of a God-forsaken little town surrounded by marshes, in order to sort out the affairs of his firm’s deceased client, Mrs Drablow. Something sinister hangs in the air even before he sees the apparition of a black-clad woman. The locals are afraid to talk about her. There is a conspiracy of silence. And fear. When Arthur gets cut off the rest of the world whilst working alone in Mrs Drablow’s house, the haunting intensifies. A chair rocks relentlessly in one of the rooms. The woman crosses his path at a cemetery. Then, in the thickest of the night, he hears the distressed sound of a drowning pony and screams of a child.

Susan Hill builds up the atmosphere with skill. She has a gothic touch. She knows the tools of horror writing: the air of secrecy, the hapless locals, an empty old house and some great tragedy lingering in the background. What I would like to see more of is the characters of the people involved in the ghostly affair to be more in-depth, more developed. I want to know them better. I want to know them, not just the man who, randomly and irrelevantly, happens to be in the house and happens to be haunted.

On the other hand, perhaps the mystery of those characters is what a good ghost story is all about?

Finally, to the ending. I won’t reveal it in case there are still people out there who have not read or seen “The Woman in Black”, but I will say that the ending, for me, was the weakest point. There was no vindication. No reason for what happened in the end. Again, it was random and unjustified and so, I felt no compassion for those affected by the original tragedy.

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