Haunting novel sets mood for holiday

For those looking for a spooky book to get into the Halloween spirit, Vintage Books recently released an edition of “The Woman in Black” by Susan Hill. The novel is a chilling ghost story published originally by Hamish Hamilton in 1983.

Narrator Arthur Kipps reflects on his past, presumably around the 1930s or ‘40s, by writing his tale. Haunted by an experience in his youth, he begins to write his terrifying tale in an attempt to exorcise it from his memory.

The novel begins on Christmas Eve in late-20th century England. Kipps, a 23-year-old solicitor from London, is commissioned to settle the affairs of the recently deceased Mrs. Alice Drablow in a town called Crythin Gifford. When Kipps explains his business in the town to its residents, he is greeted with strange responses of masked fear.

Soon, Kipps begins to understand the reason for the fear when he sees a sickly woman dressed in black. At no specific time or known reason, the woman continually reappears before mysteriously vanishing. Alone in the Eel Marsh House, Mrs. Drablow’s estate, Kipps begins to notice disturbing noises.
None of the townspeople will answer Kipps’ questions about the Woman in Black, so he must find answers for them on his own. But the more he finds out, the less he wants to know.

In an era when stories of vengeful ghosts have been done time and again, “The Woman in Black” could seem trite — it is not. Hill’s style causes the reader to feel the emotions of the narrator as though they were her own.

It takes the entire first chapter to understand where Hill is taking her readers, and the book plods along at a slow pace until one-third of the way through. As the action begins to unfold, the tension heightens and the story quickly becomes a page-turner, with the reader anxiously pursuing answers alongside Kipps.

“The Woman in Black” is far from predictable. It is not until about two-thirds in that it is made clear to the reader why the woman in black seeks vengeance. The punches do not stop there, though. They keep coming right up to the last page, in spite of lulls in the action, when it appears that all is well.

While the story takes place in England, the dialect is easy to understand, making it very readable. It is also a quick read (176 pages total), which works well for anyone with a busy schedule. “The Woman in Black” is a savory piece of brain candy that will haunt its readers.