I had high expectations for The Woman in Black by Susan Hill because it seems so many blogging book people loved it. Well, I must say I was disappointed. There were three things that combined to make me not care for the book:

  1. There is so much foreshadowing and foreboding for the first half of the book without anything happening that I began to wonder how the actuality could meet the build up. I grew skeptical instead of anticipatory and the more hints of doom that were tossed out the more I doubted so that something really spectacular was going to have to happen in order for things to turn around for me. When the woman in black finally made an appearance my response was, that’s it? I tried to rescue it by thinking how I would feel if I saw something unexplainable like that, but I just couldn’t manage it.
  2. It also didn’t help that as soon as Arthur began reading Jennet’s letters I figured everything out except for one or two minor details. Thus any kind of surprise that could have been had in later revelations was nonexistent.
  3. I could not shake the feeling that I had read this book before even though I am 99% sure I have not. Nor have I seen the movie. This distracted me throughout the book because part of my brain was off trying to figure out why the book was so darn familiar.

So let’s leave my dislike of it behind and look instead on an essential feature of all scary stories: curiosity. There was plenty of curiosity on display in Arthur, our intrepid narrator. If he hadn’t been curious about why everyone was so tightlipped about the Drablow estate he had come to deal with there would not have been a story. And what about the noises coming from the locked room? If he wasn’t curious we’d never know what was in there and the story would end. All horror stories need someone who is curious in order to move the plot ahead.

The curious, it seems to me, are generally the ones who are innocent, ignorant, or just plain stupid. In Arthur’s case it was a combination of innocence and ignorance. The townspeople of Crythin Gifford were neither ignorant nor innocent because the town had been so affected by what happened at the Drablow house. It therefore took an outsider to tell the story.

You and I sitting and reading (or watching a movie) in a safe and cozy place have it easy. We can call the character who dares walk into the haunted room crazy because we have the luxury of the events not happening to us. But guaranteed, as much as we may protest and say “I’d never go in that room,” if we ever found ourselves in a similar situation we very likely would find our curiosity overbalancing our fear. Because that’s the thing about people, we may be utterly terrified but at the same time we want to know what is behind that door or out in the fog. Our curiosity gets the best of us. That and, perhaps, a bit of disbelief or skepticism regarding what is happening. It could not be real. Could it? Even Arthur questions if the things he saw and heard were “real” and that leads him to doubt reality altogether. Once we begin to doubt reality we are done for.

I may not have enjoyed the story of The Woman in Black but it did get me thinking a little on what makes scary work or not work. So in that sense, the book isn’t a complete loss.

I read this for the Slaves of Golconda discussion group. Visit the Slaves blog to see what others thought of the book and feel free to join in the forum discussion.