My first experience of The Woman in Black was at the age of 12. It was Christmas Eve, and there was an adaptation of the story on the television that night. My family wanted to watch Legal Eagles on another channel, but I was firm in my resolve - I had to see The Woman in Black. Eventually, I won the argument and we all settled down to watch the chilling tale on a cold Christmas Eve night. I have to admit at 12 years - old, this was a mistake; I was terrified. I had never seen anything quite as frightening before or since.
The Woman in Black is now enjoying a revival as a stage play being performed on the West End. With this knowledge, I recently decided to face my childhood fear and read the book...I was not disappointed.
The book begins on Christmas Eve (as all good ghost stories should!), when a family is gathered around the fire telling each other ghastly tales of spectres and spirits. The patriarch of the family, Arthur Kipps, has remained tight lipped as he listens to the frivolous and gratuitous fables that are pouring out of his family's mouths. When finally pressed to see if he has a story to tell, he reacts angrily, not wanting to tell the tale that has haunted his dreams for decades - for his tale is far more disturbing, far more terrifying and, most shockingly, his story is completely true.
The premise is far from original: Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor in a London law firm, is asked to attend the funeral of Mrs Drablow. While Kipps attends the funeral at the little, seaside town of Crythin Griffin, he has been asked to go through any papers that Mrs. Drablow has left behind in attempt to find a benefactor, as she has no living children. Kipps travels to the town, grateful for the opportunity, and not knowing what he will find there. And this is where the story begins to stand apart from its often-used classic scenario.
When Kipps reaches the town, he discovers the Ell marsh (Mrs. Drablow's house) is separated from the town by a narrow causeway and when the tide is in, anyone who occupies the house is totally isolated from the rest of the world and the safety and reassurance that the living offer. While there, the woman in black appears to Kipps only a handful of times, but each time more terrifying than the last, with the malevolence and sense of danger increasing with her every visit. Kipps' anxiety at seeing her increases until he is terrified of the harm she may do.
The Woman in Black is a gripping tale that will have its readers on the edge of their seat. If I have one criticism, it is the final appearance of the woman in black and that her sinister intentions seem rushed in the last few pages of the book. Otherwise, the book is paced to perfection, but the ending comes all too quickly as up until this point the book has built tension with every glimpse of this nefarious apparition. In the end, this robs the reader of the uneasy feeling that readers of this sort of novel crave!