I first read The Woman in Black in June 2010 ahead of seeing a wonderful stage production at Liverpool Playhouse. Since then, of course, there’s been a film version starring Daniel Radcliffe and the fact it’s been adapted for both stage and screen is testament to the story’s appeal. So when it popped up last month on my reading group’s list, it gave me the perfect opportunity to revisit Hill’s most famous, and best, ghost story.
Young solicitor, Arthur Kipps, is instructed to travel from London to the small North East market town of Crythin Gifford, to attend the funeral of an elderly client, Mrs Alice Drablow, and stay on to sort through her papers.
In all ghost stories the setting is a key to establishing the mood; Hill’s does not disappoint. Kipps finds himself in a “far flung” town awash with eerie sounding place-names – Nine Lives Causeway, Eel Marsh, Eel Marsh House – mists that “roll up in a minute from the sea to land across the marshes,” and an old house cut-off daily by the tide.
But Hill’s real triumph is her creation of the “woman in black,” a ghostly presence exuding a “desperate, yearning malevolence…purest evil and hatred and loathing,” that begins to “invade” Arthur’s “soul.”
The plot unfolds as you might expect given the genre, with strange sightings, sounds, and things generally going bump in the night. And to cap it all there’s a hideous twist, so just when you think it’s all over….
*** Highly recommended.
PS You might want to check out my earlier posts reviewing two other of Hill’s books: Dolly and I’m the King of the Castle.