The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

I don’t read many “horror” novels. My preference is the short story form developed by Poe Lovecraft, M. R. James, Onions, and others, preferably old-fashioned and psychological, rather than scary monsters and too obvious plots. However, I was genuinely shaken after reading this book. I had to check the publication date (1983) to make sure it wasn’t from an earlier time.  

It seems to be the typical ghost story: small town with deep, dark secrets, warnings by the townspeople, a secluded, deserted mansion, creaks in the night, a mysterious fog that makes everything opaque, a locked room that mysteriously opens one night, and a pale woman dressed in black that appears in the old, deserted cemetery. Given all these standard props, the book is literate, well-plotted, character-driven, and the end, although you can see it coming, is chilling. The pity you have for the woman in black, the wrong that was done to her years ago, almost causes you to forgive her the wrong she has done to others. This is a superior horror story, up there, nearly, with my all-time favorite Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (book and film).

Apparently, it has been made into a movie with Daniel Radcliffe. According to Wikipedia (the final word in all things that matter), it was released in the US in February, 2012, to generally positive reviews. I must not have been paying attention because I completely missed any mention of it. It was also a stage play first performed in England in 1987. It was very well received and moved to London’s West End in 1989 where it still runs today, as well as currently being on a UK National Tour. It is the second longest-running play in the history of the West End, after Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. Additionally, a television film based on the story, was produced in 1989. This is what happens when a) you live in Texas, b) don’t go to movies, and c) just read books.

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