Thursday 24 January 2013

Review: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

You know those books, where you look at the book, then look at reviews, then back at the book and think, Am I reading the right book? The Woman in Black was one of those books for me. It seems like everyone loves it, my edition is even part of the Vintage Classics* range, but I didnt enjoy it at all. It was a chore to get through. Maybe I just wasnt in the right mood for it or maybe its just not the right book for me.

The premise is enticing: a young solicitor goes to stay in an old mansion to sort out the paperwork of the recently deceased owner, only to discover its haunted by a mysterious woman in black. Doesnt that sound thrilling? Alas, it is not. Not one bit. Of the 160 pages (yes, this book is tiny), it felt like only about five of them contained something actually interesting. The rest was filled with Arthur walking, Arthur eating, Arthur thinking about walking and eating, Arthur talking about walking and eating, Arthur looking around, Arthur riding a bike, Arthur talking about looking around and riding a bike and Arthur thinking and talking and walking a little bit more. The actual scares were few and far between, and when they came I was so close to falling asleep from the long, descriptive passages that I barely mustered a goosebump.

I like descriptive writing when the thing that is being described is interesting or beautiful, or the writing itself is interesting or beautiful. But Arthur describes everything and everyone he comes across, even if he only spends five minutes in a room or never meets that person again. It was all just so tedious. The writing itself was dull, and although it's in the style of a Victorian novel, it felt rather forced in several places, and jarred with the un-Victorian setting.

Thats right, dont let the movie posters fool you – this book is not set in Victorian times. Its actually never exactly clear what time period its set in. Im guessing the early 1900s. Arthur refers to the Victorian period as though it was a fair while in the past, and speaks of a pony and trap as though its a novelty over a car. Theres electricity everywhere and apparently a battery-operated torch. But theres no mention of World War I, something which would have shaped Arthurs life and personality had the book taken place during or after that period.

Theres not much of a secondary cast to speak of – in fact, my favourite character was the dog. She was adorable, and the scariest scene for me actually involved her. There were a few other parts which were mildly creepy, but my butt remained firmly far back from the edge of my seat. The central mystery around the woman in black was so predictable, and even though I was waiting for it, the climax felt rushed and ultimately unsatisfying.

Im trying to find something positive about my reading experience but to be honest I cant think of anything. Im hoping the movie is better. It won't take much.

Rating: 2/5

Fine Print
Published: 2007, Vintage Classics (this edition)
Get It: AbeBooks

*Random note: How old does a book have to be to be dubbed vintage? This one was first published in 1983. Not what Id call a vintage classic, even if it is written in ye olde language.


  1. Oh no, It's a shame you didn't enjoy this book. But prepare to rage by the movie :P

    1. Yeah I really thought I'd like it but oh well. I'm curious about what will make me rage in the movie now!

  2. I read and reviewed this book a while ago and I didn't like it either! It felt too mock Victorian for me and didn't scare me at all- I don't understand how other people find this scary! Like you, I loved the dog the most! x

    1. So glad it wasn't just me! Mock Victorian is a great way to put it.

  3. Great review Belle. I've been interested since I saw the movie was coming out. I still haven't seen the movie, but I think I'll be watching it over the book now! :)