The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor, is summoned to attend the funeral Mrs Alice Drablow, the house’s sole inhabitant of Eel Marsh House, unaware of the tragic secrets which lie hidden behind the shuttered windows. The house stands at the end of a causeway, wreathed in fog and mystery, but it is not until he glimpses a wasted young woman, dressed all in black, at the funeral, that a creeping sense of unease begins to take hold, a feeling deepened by the reluctance of the locals to talk of the woman in black — and her terrible purpose.
What real reader does not yearn, somewhere in the recesses of his or her heart, for a really literate, first-class thriller—one that chills the body, but warms the soul with plot, perception, and language at once astute and vivid? In other words, a ghost story written by Jane Austen?
Alas, we cannot give you Austen, but Susan Hill’s remarkable Woman In Black comes as close as our era can provide. Set on the obligatory English moor, on an isolated causeway, the story has as its hero Arthur Kipps, an up-and-coming young solicitor who has come north from London to attend the funeral and settle the affairs of Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. The routine formalities he anticipates give way to a tumble of events and secrets more sinister and terrifying than any nightmare: the rocking chair in the deserted nursery, the eerie sound of a pony and trap, a child’s scream in the fog, and most dreadfully — and for Kipps most tragically — The Woman In Black.
The Woman In Black is both a brilliant exercise in atmosphere and controlled horror and a delicious spine-tingler — proof positive that this neglected genre, the ghost story, isn’t dead after all.