I’m sure you’ve seen the movie The Woman in Black starring Daniel Radcliffe, right? Or you’ve heard of it, at least. Being a self-proclaimed scary movie aficionado, this one is high on my list of movies to see. Like any good librarian I just had to read the book first. I’ll admit, ashamedly so or not, I had no idea this book existed before all the hype surrounding the movie began. Written in 1983 by Susan Hill, The Woman in Black quickly attained classic ghost story status. It has since been dramatized for the stage, becoming the second longest running West End stage production, surpassed only by Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap. With this new-found information in hand and my hopes high, I became acquainted with Arthur Kipps and as he reminisced on his experience with the specter known as the Woman in Black.
Our story begins with Arthur, now comfortably middle aged, looking back upon a time in his life that has changed and haunted him ever since. Young Arthur came to the town of Crythin Gifford as a solicitor, charged with the task of attending the funeral of one of the firm’s clients, Alice Drablow. It is at the funeral he spies a woman dressed in mourning. Not out of the ordinary, but something about this woman chills Arthur to the bone. Events become progressively spooky as Mr. Kipps travels to the Drablow home, Eel Marsh House, surrounded by marsh and only accessible by a causeway. While sorting through his client’s papers, Arthur begins to hear things. Present are all the usual stock chilling sounds- children crying, footsteps, screams, the sound of a horse and cart that seems to be coming through the fog but never arrives. By this time we are as unnerved as Mr. Kipps, our guide through this story.
Realizing something supernatural is occurring; Arthur attempts to question the locals about the previous inhabitants of the house. Met with stonewalling indifference at every turn, he is finally able to piece together the tragic events. It seems Mrs. Drablow’s sister Jennet Humfrye had a child out of wedlock. Jennet acquiesces to her sisters will and gives her illegitimate child to the Drablows. Unable to stay away, Jennet returns to see her child, in hopes of taking him away from Eel Marsh House. Tragedy strikes as Jennet watches her child, the nursemaid, and pony cart are all lost to the marshes. Inconsolable, Jennet curses the Drablows and Eel Marsh House. It is her ghost haunts the grounds and anyone that comes to the house. She is the Woman in Black. Dun, dun, dun!
Arthur leaves Eel Marsh House and returns to London where he thinks he has escaped the Woman in Black and her dark legacy only to face her wrath years later. One day Arthur glimpses the sinister visage of his nightmares while out with his family. His wife and young child are killed in a carriage accident, as Jennet Humfrye claims two more victims.
Short in length, you’ll zoom through this novel, especially if read alone after dark. Yes, it’s creepy, chillingly so. Full of traditional ghost story elements The Woman in Black does not disappoint. Now I feel as though I’m prepared for the movie – bring it on!