I’ve been intrigued by The Woman in Black for a few years, since my sister saw it staged in London and then almost ran screaming from the book in a bookstore several weeks later. (I should probably clarify that she’d loved it, but it freaked her out so much that even weeks later, she couldn’t face the idea of experiencing it again. This is not an unusual state for either of us. Ask us about The Birds sometime.)
Anyway, I had never read it or seen it, and it intrigued me. Every time I was in London, though, there was something else that I’d wanted to see more, and it wasn’t a huge priority on my TBR list, either. It was there, but it wasn’t at the top. I had gotten as far as downloading an “Old Time Radio” podcast from the 40s or 50s or something that was called “The Woman in Black” – but it had nothing to do with the Susan Hill story. This weekend, I came across a copy in the charity shop where I volunteer, so I picked it up and read it that afternoon in the park (finishing it, coincidentally, approximately thirty seconds before my sister called).
She was right. It’s freaky.
It’s a mystery/suspense story, and not very long – it only took me an hour and a bit to read. I found the first couple of chapters a bit confusing with the timeline and tenses of the narrator, but the first couple of chapters are little more than introduction and lulling the reader into security anyway. Because it’s a mystery/suspense story, I’m not going to say too much about the plot – the reveal adds a lot to the suspense. It leaves a lot unsaid, especially the motivation of the antagonist. I understood why some of the things happened, but not others.
It is supremely creepy, however. It’s the perfect kind of story to read – or read aloud – on a dark, possibly stormy night. If I had read it at, say, Halloween, when I was alone in the house and watching scary movies anyway, I doubt I would have fallen asleep. I would have been imagining the sounds of the story and expecting something to come out of the Dolphin Paradise. I can’t praise enough the atmosphere of the story. After the slight confusion of the first few chapters, I was ready to dismiss it as overblown or possibly something that owed more to the staging and performances than to the story itself. But no – even lying in a sunny park, I could feel the tension and terror of an isolated house in the fens, the companionship of the dog, the sadness at the backstory.
I don’t know if it’s a book that Everyone Should Read or anything, but if you’re in the mood for something freaky and scary, it’s definitely a recommendation of mine.