The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
31st Oct 2011
My first encounter with The Woman in Black was as a teacher on a school trip to see it – and I watched in awe (when I could suppress the unbearable tension) as the atmosphere in a theatre full of raucous fifteen-year-olds switched irrevocably from mild derision to utter terror. (One boy’s mother later had to phone the theatre and ask the actors to speak to her child to convince him it was only a story, so real was his fear.)
It’s no coincidence that a new edition has been published now: a film starring Daniel Radcliffe is due to be released in UK cinemas in February next year.
Radcliffe seems well cast as the earnest and sober young lawyer Arthur Kipps, who travels (with no great enthusiasm) from London to an isolated northern village to put the affairs of a recently deceased client in order.
His ironic observation that the set-up sounded ‘like something from a Victorian novel’ proves all too accurate, as he finds the taciturn villagers in silent and terrified thrall to the mysterious, eponymous woman in black, who attends his client’s funeral, and about whom no one will talk.
In spite of their discouragement, the stoic Kipps perseveres with his duty, making the lonely journey across a tidal causeway to Mrs Drablow’s forlorn, dilapidated house in increasingly menacing weather.
But as time goes on, his resolute scepticism is eroded in the face of awful night-time happenings. And only when he discovers the identity of the woman in black, does he realise the real and terrible threat he is up against.
Susan Hill‘s prose is sedate and slow-moving, matching the solemnity of the narrator as he recounts his grim tale. Yet it trickles tendrils of tension that gradually ensnare the reader in a gothic atmosphere thick with menace.
This edition is beautifully packaged, too, with specially commissioned wood engravings by Andy English and an embossed dust jacket of haunting design – the perfect complement to an exquisite, if terrible, tale. The latest edition was published last month by Profile and can be bought in hardback for £5.89.
What eerie stories have you been unable to put down, leaving you cowering under the covers with a torch?