Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Woman in Black

I amn ocacasional horror reader and with the news of the release of the movie The Woman in Black starring Daniel Radcliffe and based on the said book by Susan Hill I knew I had to read it and I simply loved it.

Here is the summary of the book:

What real reader does not yearn, somewhere in the recesses of his or her heart, for a really literate, first-class thriller - one that chills the body with foreboding of dark deeds to come, but warms the soul with perceptions and language at once astute and vivid? In other words, a ghost story by Jane Austen. Austen we cannot, alas, give you, but Susan Hill's remarkable Woman In Black comes as close as the late twentieth century is likely to provide. Set on the obligatory English moor, on an isolated causeway, the story has as its hero one Arthur Kipps, an up-and-coming young solicitor who has come north to attend the funeral and settle the estate of Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. The routine formalities he anticipates give way to a tumble of events and secrets more sinister and terrifying than any nightmare: the rocking chair in the nursery of the deserted Eel Marsh House, the eerie sound of pony and trap, a child's scream in the fog, and, most dreadfully, and for Kipps most tragically, the woman in black. The Woman In Black is both a brilliant exercise in atmosphere and controlled horror and a delicious spine-tingler - proof positive that that neglected genre, the ghost story, isn't dead after all.

With all the hosh-posh crude horror being published these days a pure classic horror forms a respite. What better way to spend the day than to read Ms. Hill's ghostly composition. Set in Victorian England, this atmospheric, supernatural tale of evil, terror and revenge sent chills down my spine on more than one occasion. It starts peacefully and builds up to a frightening crescendo that will "haunt" you long after you put the book down.

Ms. Hill begins her well-written narrative happily enough in the home of Arthur Kipps, who is surrounded by his loving wife and family for the Christmas holidays at their country home, Monk's Piece. Kipps is a full partner at a prestigious London law firm. Esme is his second wife. He lost his first love as a very young man. It is Christmas Eve and the grandchildren are all in bed. Their young parents, the Kipps' grown children, gather around the fire for a cozy ghost story session. At one point Kipps, obviously agitated, gets up, leaves the room and goes outside. He has hidden something significant about his past from his wife and family for years now - a tragically real ghost story of "haunting and evil, fear, confusion and horror" - of which he was a part. These events will certainly effect him all the days of his life. Kipps realizes that for his own peace of mind it is time to write his experience down and exorcise the demons, at last. He had hoped this inextricable part of his life would never have to be consciously recollected...but it is time. He decides that, at least during his lifetime, the tale will remain for his eyes only, and so he begins to write. He is our narrator.

At the very beginning of his career, many years before, Arthur Kipps, an energetic, idealistic junior solicitor was sent by his employer to attend the funeral of an elderly widow woman, Mrs. Drablow, one of the firms former clients. As the deceased owned property, including her home on the salt marshes near the town of Crythin Gifford, and had no heirs, no children or extended family, Kipps was asked to go and sort through her papers, and generally tidy-up the old woman's affairs.

The Drablow mansion, called Eel Marsh House, is quite isolated, situated in the middle of an estuary, connected to the mainland only by the Nine Lives Causeway, a small pathway barely visible through the marshes and quicksand, and only navigable a few hours a day. The road is underwater the rest of the time due to the strong tides.

It was at the funeral that Arthur Kipps first saw the tall, emaciated woman dressed in black. Despite his many questions to the locals, they refused to discuss the woman or address his concerns surrounding the Drabnow house, although they were extremely amiable and ready to speak out on every other topic. Suffice it to say that at the funeral, Kipps was the only one to see the woman in black. No one else even glimpsed what was so apparent to him.

Obviously, as his work led him to spend time at Eel Marsh house, there were to be be many more surreal episodes, each more frightening and dangerous in nature. Although these encounters are really scary, there is a mystery here also. Who is this mysterious woman...and if she is a ghost, why can she find no peace?

But as Arthur journeys across the treacherous causeway at low tide to explore the dark and brooding Eel Marsh House, things begin to shake up a bit. Not only did the late Mrs. Drablow keep every scrap of paper that ever crossed her twisted path, but she also harbored several dark, sinister secrets. But as you well know, secrets have a way of coming un-done and as would be the case for dear Arthur, he gets smack in the middle of a real doosey.

There's a mysterious locked nursery door, buckets full of eerie moonlight and a terrifying, recurring sound of a pony and trap (wagon) clip-clopping into the darkness always ending with a child's desperate scream as he is heard drowning in the marsh--over and over again. But there is also an evilness; a sheer hatred of anything remotely human at Eel Marsh House and it follows Arthur. And it waits for Arthur. And it strikes him in a way that truly will take your breath away.

The author packs this novel with twists, turns and the unexpected at almost every turn of the page. The description of the brooding countryside, the house and surrounding marshes is at times beautiful, but always spooky. There were a few occasions when I wanted to shut my eyes - but unlike a scary movie, if one shuts one's eyes while reading, well it gets too dark to continue.

I Quote - what a small and frightening thing! I am not prone to bouts of depression, but I will say this - once I began to read about the lawyer's forays into the marsh, the house and even the town - the atmosphere was so thick with darkness that I began to feel depressed. I'd have to put the book down, do something else and then continue. How I held my breath each time he investigated a sound! And the carriage falling into the marsh over and over...the end haunted me for days. It was such a simple, neat, tidy unexpected and abrupt end that I had no choice but to sit there speechless.

Genre :      Classic, Horror

Publisher: David R. Godine Publisher

Rate:              5/5 (It was awesome)


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