The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story
David R. Godine, 1986; 160 pages
Originally published in the UK by Hamish Hamilton, 1983
The Man in the Picture: A Ghost StoryThe Overlook Press, 2008; 145 pages
Two spooky but elegant little novels with supernatural themes by one of the best modern writers of macabre stories.
In The Woman in Black, up-and-coming young solicitor Arthur Kipps travels to the isolated Eel Marsh House in order to attend the funeral and settle the estate of a deceased client, Mrs. Alice Drablow. While there, he falls victim to a series of eerie occurrences, including the phantom sounds of a child screaming in the fog, and a pony struggling to escape a deadly bog. But the most terrifying is the apparition of the woman in black who haunts the area. Kipps slowly learns her secret, tragic history, but only later begins to realize just how sinister and lethal her influence can be.
The Man in the Picture takes the classic form of a tale related on a cold winter's night by the narrator's old professor. The older man is the owner of a mysterious painting depicting a Venetian carnival scene. But this painting hides strange forces that seem able to entrap unwary victims, and eventually exert their evil influence on everyone who owns it.
Her publishers have described Susan Hill's work as "a ghost story by Jane Austen." And the comparison is attractive, but not exactly on target. I'm reminded much more of the classic tales of M.R. James. The Man in the Picture has strong echoes of James's work – I especially kept remembering his stories "The Mezzotint" and "The Haunted Doll's House." And in The Woman in Black, Hill has even titled one of the chapters "Whistle and I'll Come to You," – an obvious homage to one of James's most famous stories, "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad."
Both of these books were great fun – wonderful examples of the timeless English ghost story. They're fast reads – The Man in the Picture could easily be read at one sitting. Just the perfect reading matter for the Halloween season.
**Full Disclosure Statement**:
I got these books from the public library.