The Women in Black
By Susan Hill
Illustrations by John Lawrence
David R. Godine
Arthur Krupps is an ambitious, young lawyer looking forward to providing a secure future for his fiancé. When his employer sends him to a small, isolated town in the north of England, he looks at it as an opportunity to make a name for himself in his firm. On the long train ride north, he meets a man named Samuel Daily of the town of Crythin Gifford who becomes rather secretive when Arthur reveals the reason for his visit. Arthur thinks nothing of Samuel’s odd behavior and, in fact, he finds the town a quiet, peaceful place and expects to enjoy his short stay. He soon finds out that everyone in town is unwilling to talk about a woman named Alice Drablow, a recluse who lived at Eel Marsh House and the woman whose estate Arthur’s come to settle. Arthur thinks it odd but brushes it off as nothing more than small town politics and just wants to get through the formalities of his work and return to London. While attending the funeral of Mrs. Drablow, Arthur spots a woman in black but she disappears before he’s able to speak with her. He spots her again while walking around Eel Marsh House later that afternoon but she’s much more intimidating on the marshes around the house than at the church. Thoroughly spooked, he returns to town but is determined to return and finish his work. When he does return, he finds a house full of sinister secrets and a ghost bent on revenge.
This story, while very short, is full of long, lush sentences that cast a creepy spell. Arthur wants to believe what’s going on is in his mind but there are too many things happening that make him wonder, in some cases about his own sanity and well-being. The town’s people won’t talk about the house on the marsh or what happened there and it adds a strange coldness to the story setting Arthur apart from everyone in town. His search for answers only causes more distress and in the end, all he wants to do is run. While Arthur’s story begins on a bright cheery note, you know his story won’t end happily.
It’s a good little Victorian story. Angst, guilt, and anguish with a tad of soul searching thrown in make it a story you don’t want to put down. If you like ghost stories this is it. If you don’t, I think it will still hold some value as a story about a man coming to terms with a particular time in his life that he would prefer to forget. If you don’t like ghost stories, consider it a story about a man and his past with a haunting element that adds atmosphere.
I came across this book while hunting for a dark ghost story. Susan Hill has several other books, many of which seem to be well-known in England where she lives. I plan to see what else my library has as she’s definitely a writer I want to read more of. She has a wonderful style that is lulling but not in the way that puts you to sleep but in the way that pulls you into the story and traps you there until she’s ready to release you.