Just finished reading The Small Hand by Susan Hill. The Small Hand is the story of Adam Snow. Adam deals in valuable antique books which he acquires for his wealthy clients. One day, after spending time with one of his clients he decides to take a short cut on his way back home and becomes hopelessly lost on the twisty country roads. He eventually comes to a track leading to a house and decides to try and find somebody who can give him directions. What he actually finds is a desolated and derelict house with an overgrown garden. Whilst standing looking into the garden he feels a small hand take hold of his. Oddly, he feels no fear but is strangely comforted. He returns to his car and manages to find his way home. However, all though this may seem like a benign incident he soon starts to experience other strange occurences.
I enjoy reading Susan Hill. Her writing just seems to flow and appears effortless. I thought this was a good read and beautifully packaged as well (definitely the sort of book that you actually want to own the book – and not the Kindle version). Maybe not particularly chilling and perhaps (and this probably seems like a contradiction given the actual size of the book – which is easily readable in one sitting) stretched out in parts. I don’t mean that to be overly critical because it is very easy to read and I would actually probably read it again – maybe in winter time which might add to the atmosphere.
I thought Adam was a good character on the whole, although I don’t suppose we found out too much about him – other than he has a brother of course – but, he is likable on the whole (even if a little similar to the storyteller in the Woman in Black). I think, on reflection, I may have enjoyed this book if I hadn’t read the Woman in Black first as the WiB is by far the superior novel of the two and probably gave me expectations of something a bit more chilling. Probably if I hadn’t started to read the story with this sort of expectation I would have found it a bit more scary.
As it is, I would recommend this but with the proviso that you understand this probably won’t give you nightmares (if that’s what you’re looking for), it may give you a couple of ‘hair standing up on the back of the neck moments’ but not too much more in that department. However, I enjoyed it and would recommend just for Susan Hill’s writing style.
The Woman in Black is a ghost story told by Arthur Kipps. The story begins in a traditional way with Arthur’s family gathered round the fire on Christmas Eve and telling ghost stories. Arthur, who has real experience of ghosts undertakes to commit his story to paper. His story begins when he is a young and ambitious solicitor, keen to progress and impress both his boss and girlfriend. He is given an assignment to close the estate of a client who has just passed away and so travels to the east coast of the country (I must say that Arthur did put me in mind of Jonathon Harker from Dracula).
The client concerned is one Alice Drablow who lived a secluded existence at Eel Marsh house, arrived at by a causeway and surrounded not only by marshes and quicksand but also suspicion and fear. The story really begins when Arthur notices a lonely woman, dressed in black, at Alice’s funeral – the only other person there. The villagers refuse to speak of this woman let alone acknowledge any sightings of her and will have no dealings at all with Eel Marsh House. Refusing to give in to superstition Arthur is determined to complete his task and decides to spend time at the house.
The story is of course filled to the brim with your classic ghost story pre-requisites. A spooky and remote house, full of dark furniture and long corridors, a small village of frightened and superstitious people, changable weather, rolling mists, moonlit nights and slowly creeping feelings of dread.
I enjoyed reading this book, it’s only short, but I think that worked in it’s favour. The chilly feeling slowly builds until the last few chapters where Arthur spends time alone (although he has his feisty little companion Spider to forewarn him of any ghostly appearances!). Some of the night scenes are quite chilling in fact although overall I won’t say I found this book frightening. What I really appreciated was the writing style. The book actually reads like an old fashion gothic novel which I think is a real accomplishment given that it was in fact written in the 80s.
I would recommend this book if you fancy a bit of a spooky story on a dark night. It’s a subtle and old fashioned type of read however and won’t appeal to everyone. There are no dreadful and evil monsters or spectacular gore fests. The success of the book lies mainly in the brooding and myserious atmosphere which the author manages to create where eventually you almost find yourself holding your breath and listening out for noises yourself.