Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Woman in Black: The Book is Better

   A while back I reviewed the film adaptation of Susan Hill's Gothic ghost story, The Woman in Black. I liked the movie quite a bit and had been meaning to get around to reading the novel. It was Gothic author Barrymore Tebbs' blog, The Midnight Room, which finally made me get to the book. Backtracking through Tebbs' blog, I read his reviews of book and movie and he pretty firmly stated that the book was better. Having just finished the novel, I wholeheartedly agree.
   Hill's novel is a straightforward ghost story, with echoes of The Turn of the Screw and the work of M.R. James. It is creepy and it is that best of all things a ghost story can be, disturbing. It lingers in your mind long after you've put the book down.
   The story follows young solicitor Arthur Kipps, who is dispatched by the firm he works for to the small coastal town of Crythin Gifford to attend the funeral of a client, Mrs. Alice Drablow, and to see to her papers. Kipps must travel to the old woman's home, a Gothic pile named Eel Marsh House, to sort through all her documents. The house sits on an island and is only accessible at low tide by a narrow causeway. At the funeral Kipps catches a glimpse of a pale woman, dressed all in black, who seems to be the victim of some wasting disease. That is the beginning of Kipps' encounter with the supernatural.
   I called the story straightforward and it is that, slowly building tension and layering on the atmosphere until it becomes almost unbearable. And when the ghostly goings on finally are revealed for what they are, the reader feels like he's right there with the unfortunate Mr. Kipps. This is a scary little book.
   Now having seen the film and the read the book, I can see why the filmmakers made some of the changes they did. A couple I don't agree with, especially the ending, but I still like the movie. The book, however, is better. This book would probably best be read on a winter's evening with the wind whistling around the eaves, but I read it on a sunny Spring day and it still had considerable power to chill. Highly recommended.

No comments: