Thursday, 31 October 2013

Hallowe'en Hill

Hallowe'en seems to have cast its dark shadow before it this year: the last three charity-shop books I've bought were Susan Hill's The Woman in Black, Jeanette Winterson's The Daylight Gate (a novella inspired by the Pendle Witch Trials) and Henry James's The Jolly Corner, in a handsome edition with suitably eerie etchings by Peter Milton (Terra Nova Editions, 1979).
 I've just read The Woman in Black, which is commendably short and very readable. A first-person narrative, it's essentially a pastiche of a golden age ghost story - the period is vague but the feel is  Edwardian/Twenties - and it's very expertly done, as you'd expect with Susan Hill, the location and atmosphere skilfully and convincingly evoked. The narrative is cleverly paced, but it's a mostly predictable and well worn storyline that promises more than it delivers in terms of chills and thrills. More overtly Gothic in style than M.R. James's stories, it has none of the genuinely creepy and unsettling effects that James achieves - but then, very few ghost stories come anywhere near his. But The Woman in Black is a rattling good read and, if I wasn't chilled, at least I was entertained and kept turning the pages. I've never been able to resist a story that starts, as this does, with a train journey (steam of course) to a remote and mysterious location.
 And now I'm reading The Daylight Gate, which is a very different kettle of fish...

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