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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Classic Ghost Story Comes to Disappointing End

So, I had a book crisis as I was packing for Lake Powell: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell would not fit into my suitcase. I even traded my husband suitcases, so I'd have more room. Nope. The novel was just too big. So, I ended up taking The Woman in Black by Susan Hill instead. I admit a Victorian ghost story is an odd thing to read at bright, sunny Lake Powell, but I enjoyed it.

This novel has all the elements of a classic ghost story - a lonely setting, a creaky old mansion, and a resident ghost. It also contains a young solicitor eager to advance in his law firm. The lawyer, Arthur Kipps, receives an assignment to travel from his home in London to the remote town of Crythin Gifford. There, he will settle the affairs of Mrs. Drablow, the recently deceased owner of Eel Marsh House. Flattered to be given such an important mission, Arthur heads off on his adventure. He finds the people in Crythin Gifford friendly enough, although no one will talk about Mrs. Drablow. Their reticence piques Arthur's curiosity. As he visits the spinster's home, goes through her papers and talks to her neighbors, he slowly pieces together her mysterious story. The clues appear to him in ghostly forms: a malevolent woman in black; the sounds of a child crying at night on the lonely marshes; and an eerily well-preserved nursery. Although the search for Mrs. Drablow's secrets haunts him, Arthur cannot keep himself away from the ghosts and the mystery. His obsession takes a toll on him physically, which is nothing compared to what the woman in black will eventually steal from him.

Despite the subject of this novel, I found the tone quite warm, especially at first. As Arthur travelled to Crythin Gifford, however, it got more sinister. The descriptions of the lonely little town and its haunted marshes made me shiver. Still, it seemed to be a pretty cozy, predictable ghost story. Except it wasn't. I predicted a typical happy end to the story, but it didn't happen. The book ends abruptly, in about the bleakest way possible. Although it makes sense, I really wanted a good, satisfying end to Arthur's story. So, since I really enjoyed the book, but didn't like the ending, I'm giving it a solid B.


  1. I've read this a couple of times now and been shocked by the end both times. Definitely one of my favourite ever ghost stories though. Very atmospheric and creepy. I saw the BBC adaptation several years ago and it was quite frightening.

  2. I have put this on my list to buy, which is growing ever so long! Thanks for the review, I'm so excited to get it!!


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