The short version of my review of The Woman in Black: Well, it didn’t shit me up as much as the film did!
In one way, that encapsulates most of what I want to say about the book. Because I had watched the film when it came out in the cinema, I was expecting something more directly scary than the book turned out to be. Watching the film influenced my expectation of the book. I suppose I could have guessed that the two would be different because books and film are different. Where The Woman in Black is concerned, each work to the strengths of their respective mediums.
The film was scary, but it affected you more because it made you jump than anything else. Tension built to a crescendo, then something very sudden happened. It is hard for a book to accomplish the same things. A book can surprise you if you don’t know something is about to happen, but in horror, and in The Woman in Black as an example, if something is going to pop out of a door, you know what it will be, therefore the impact of the shock is reduced. A book needs to play to its strengths, or more it’s USP! I recently heard a great description of a book as; A jumble of markings on a page that can induce visions and emotions across any distance of time between writing them down and them being read. So, a book can speak of depth of emotion and understanding that could never be understood from a film. This is The Woman in Black‘s redemption. The book uses emotion instead of shock. The main events that truly affect our protagonist while in Eel Marsh House are very intensely emotional to him. No jumping, but caution, tension, sorrow and hatred. With these tools Susan Hill deftly illustrates a tragedy stuck in time, repeated over again to the detriment of all who see it.
The book did a wonderful job of describing two main themes. Firstly the landscapes and scenes and secondly, almost everything about our main character. In both cases the positive, healthy and up beat was emphasised to provide a foil for those times when things went bad. I do have to admit that despite the quality of Susan Hill’s prose, I was not completely satisfied with the story by the end of the book. I loved the way that the final twist hung on until the actual physical last page of the book, but I think more could have happened, there was unfinished business in Eel Marsh House. That said, I think that a feeling of un-ease may be a fitting end to a book of subtle emotions like The Woman in Black.