The Woman in Black

February 13, 2012 at 11:06 am (Reads) ()

woman in blackThe Woman in Black by Susan Hill


Does anyone remember the splatterpunk movement in horror fiction, back in the ’80s?  You know, when the shock of graphic violence replaced the emotional feeling one got from reading a genuinely eerie, spooky story?  Unfortunately, I do, and I say “unfortunately,” because while I thought it was edgy and profound then, now I find it to be just profane.  A lot of authors survived that movement (Clive Barker and Joe Lansdale are two who come right to mind), and even retained some of that shocking imagery, but I think what made them successful beyond that movement was the fact that they understood what made a good horror story effective.  It had to get under your skin, make you believe in it despite the unlikeliness of it all, and make you question what you knew about the world around you.

The Woman in Black understands the sensibilities of what makes for a good, spooky story.  It’s set on an island that’s accessible only by a land bridge that’s covered during high tide, in a large, sprawling house where a death has recently occurred.  The townspeople won’t speak of the house or the strange goings-on that take place there, even when they’re directly confronted by it.  It’s unnameable and unspeakable, and it’s up to the main character to discover what’s going on, and of course he’s the narrator of the story.  And that whole atmosphere of the story is wonderful.

Ultimately, I think the story was disappointing.  I love the feel of it, and the way that the author creates that sense of foreboding that’s necessary to carry the story, but unfortunately, that’s all that the story really is.  We learn the history behind the house and the oddness to it all, but is it enough to satisfy the build-up to that point?  It’s hard to say.  It’s understandable and tragic, but is it justified?  Does it matter that the entire thing feels unresolved?  And does it even matter?  The theme seems to suggest that the lack of closure plays in to the events, but it goes against what I expect out of the stories I rad.

This is a short novel, and probably will only take an afternoon to finish, but I’m not sure that I would recommend it.  I guess it depends on what you want out of the story.  If you want a good, creepy atmosphere, then I think it’s worth reading.  But if you prefer your stories with more closure, then you might want to skip it.

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