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The Classics Companion

I have a (small) obsession with books and tv shows. Proud geek.

The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black - Susan Hill This book was first brought to my attention through the film, and the critically acclaimed play that is the second longest running show on Broadway. I was drawn to it through it's length, I must admit. After getting through Crime and Punishment, I have a temporary aversion to big books. Don't get me wrong, I loved it, I just need a break from 500-page Russian Literature. What makes 'The Woman in Black' by Sue Hill different is that it's written as a traditional Victorian gothic novel. Typical ghost haunting, terrified lawyer, dreary house.

I'm going to say right off, this was an odd read. I don't know if it's because it was so much shorter than Crime and Punishment, it just seemed lacking in some way. It was well written, the tension was there for the majority of the novel that you'd expect from a gothic novel about a ghost. There was some beautiful passages about the gothic house and it's surroundings, and I completely commend Sue Hill on her writing. The problem is that it's a Victorian gothic novel that isn't a Victorian gothic novel. I was painfully aware that it was written in the style of one, and to me, that changed things. It was very stereotypical, very 'following the masses' of gothic literature.

Don't get me wrong, she created a level of tension. The mysterious rocking chair, and the mad, terrifying cries of a child drowning makes it seem horrible, and you really connect with Arthur as Hill describes it magnificently. It's got a level of suspense, as you don't know what's going to happen, who the woman is, or the bac kstory behind Mrs. Drablow's family. In that sense it's a good novel. The problem? It could have done with an extra 100 pages. Kipps leaving Eel Marsh House was too abrupt for my liking. It was sudden, and I certainly expected him to return, to even confront the ghost. Instead, we find out a very rushed back story, one that is both heartbreaking, but not explored really. I got the sense that the author ran out of steam half way through, killed off all tension, and tried to finish it as quickly as possible.

The ending is not all bad though. Although rushed, the epilogue removes me from disappointment. It's a sense of finality. A harrowing finality, but a conclusion to the story. It's sad, but it ultimately ties in the confusion about the difference in his fiancée and his wife we read about at the start of the story. After the abrupt ending of his time at Eel Marsh House, you see how the story ends, how it ultimately connects to him once he's left, and returned back to his normal life. It's certainly not a nice ending, but it was by far the best part of the book. It redeems itself, it rises up from pure disappointment to end on a promising note, one that outshines much of the novel.

Would I recommend reading it? If you want a relatively quick gothic read, with a simple story line? Then I would suggest reading it. It does keep you gripped for the most part. If you want to read a very satisfying, dark, well developed gothic horror, I'd recommend Frankenstein any day over it. It's longer, but the sheer darkness of it is astounding.