The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill, Reviewed.

the woman in black

Having seen the Daniel Radcliffe film adapted from this novel, I was eager to read the book. In common with many readers, I generally find books much better than the films made from them, but in this case I was disappointed.

The narrative is written in the first person and in the style of a Victorian ghost story. For me, the build up to the tale itself was unnecessarily lengthy, so that there were times when I thought, ‘Get on with the story!’. However, I persevered: the book does, after all, have a reputation, and inspired both a play and a film. And the author is a well known writer who sells a lot of books.

Whether it’s the deliberate attempt to inhabit the mind of a young Victorian lawyer, or the insistence on following the period style, the narrative frankly bored me much of the time. Far from filling me with tension and suspense, the book irritated me with its stilted descriptions and set-piece ghostly locations. For me, this was, like many Victorian novels, overdone and wordy.

There was the standard ‘gaunt woman’, the ‘unexpected’ fog, the ‘kindly gentleman’ and many other elements of this type of fiction. For me, it was clichéd. A real disappointment. I could have put up with the many references to the genre if the story had been better written, but I felt the style overtook the narrative, the effort to echo the period rendered the story of lesser value. Sad, really, since the ingredients should have been capable of developing and sustaining real tension, anxiety and fear in the reader.

For me, there were no resultant nightmares; none of the expected sensitivities to darkness and sound that generally follow the reading of a well-constructed ghost story. I finished it, discovered the ending less satisfying than the film adaptation, and wished I’d spent my time reading something else.