Friday, October 09, 2009

Review: Two by Susan Hill

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.


  1. These sound really good Joy. I've never heard of them before so thanks for the reviews.

  2. Do you want to participate in the Slaves of Golconda discussion of The Woman in Black at the end of October, Joy? I'd love to have you join in.

  3. LOL! Do you mean there's a place where I can get books for free and not be influenced to write a favorable review. I'll have check out this thing you call library.

  4. Hi Joy--Susan emailed me the link to your blog. I would be happy to send you an invite for the Slaves of Golconda blog--we're discussing the Woman in Black later this month. If you can email me your email address I can get an invite out to you. I'm at:

  5. Great review. I'm going to have to check into these books.

  6. Sounds like the prefect books for Halloween.

  7. These books sound really good. I never heard of them before, and I'm always down for a good ghost story. Thanks Joy! Excellent review also.

  8. I've just read two of Susan Hill's crime novels (feat. Simon Serrailler) and love her work, but haven't gotten round to her ghost stories yet. I keep saying I'm going to save them for a rainy day (or wait until I see the play of A Woman in Black) but I think I'm just a wimp. But your review has made me want to go and get them!

  9. The Woman in Black has been one of my favourite ghost stories for years and I've just read The Man in the Picture myself. I completely agree that she writes like M.R. James and it's such a joy that someone is still doing this in the modern age.


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