Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Book review: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Book review: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

I’ve always been a complete sucker for a good ghost story, so when I discovered that the movie, The Woman in Black starring Daniel Radcliffe, is based on a novel, I had to check it out (Please be aware that the following review contains spoilers from both the book and the film.):

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill is set in, presumably, the turn of the 20th century England and tells the story of young London lawyer, Arthur Kipps, who travels to a remote corner of the countryside to settle the estate - which consists largely of Eel Marsh House - of old, recently deceased Mrs. Drablow. Before he even arrives in the little market town of Crythin Gifford, Kipps gets wind of rumors and whispers of a dark history surrounding Mrs. Drablow and Eel Marsh House, which he immediately dismisses, in his arrogance and youth, as nothing more than the peasant hearsay and old wives’ tales of uneducated, superstitious townsfolk. However, after just one day at Eel Marsh House and a series of unexplained events, Arthur Kipps becomes a believer.

While I admit that it took me a few pages to get into this novel - the descriptions, while lovely, tended to go on unnecessarily - once I got past the introductory chapter, I was swept away by Susan Hill’s prose and drawn into her setting of a quaint yet haunting - not to mention haunted - English countryside. I was particularly fascinated by the gothic descriptions of Eel Marsh House, tucked away on a remote and isolated island in the marshes, and only accessible by a narrow channel and only when the tide recedes, which added greatly to the eerie quality and suspenseful tone of the novel.

Readers should be warned that while the novel proves itself a satisfying read for fans of a good ghost/haunted house story, the ending is far from a happy one - but I personally felt that it was fitting to the tone of the story, and even added a little twist that set it apart from your average ghost story.

Contrasts between the novel and film:

Like any book-to-movie adaptation, the movie-makers were prone to creative license, although whether to improve the story or merely lengthen it - the book was really more of a novella - or both, I’m not sure, but I personally felt that the changes were, for the most part, improvements.

The most notable differences:

1. At the beginning of the film version, Arthur Kipps is a widower and the father of a young son, while in the book, at the time that he makes his fateful journey to Crythin Gifford, he’s merely happily engaged and hasn’t yet started a family. This comes full circle at the end of the novel, however, when he marries his fiancée and has a son; and while the endings to the movie and book are quite different yet similar in certain respects, I personally preferred the novel’s ending.

2. The film puts more emphasis on the idea that when the woman in black is seen by someone, subsequently a child in Crythin Gifford dies a horrific, untimely death; whereas, in the novel it is mentioned as almost an afterthought and is significant to the ending only. Also, on a similar note, the filmmakers invented the idea that the child is manipulated into killing his/herself by the woman; in the novel, the child in question is merely involved in an accident or succumbs to an illness.

3. In the film, Kipps gets the idea to recover the remains of Jennet Humfrye’s son - who was never recovered from his muddy grave in the marshes surrounding Eel Marsh House, where he drowned some sixty years earlier - in order to reunite mother and child and, hopefully, put the woman in black’s soul to rest. In the novel, by contrast, the child’s body was recovered shortly after his drowning and thereafter given a proper burial, so therefore Kipps had no cause to make any such attempt.

There were more, subtle differences between the film and the novel, but those I mentioned are the most obvious. Over-all, I found both the book and movie to be satisfying in their own rights; well worth a watch and a read if you’re a fan of ghost stories, but I’d recommend reading the book first. ;)


No comments:

Post a Comment