After finishing The Woman in White, it only seemed logical to pull The Woman in Black off the shelf and read it next. And they make a fine pairing, both with gothic elements and ghostly women. Susan Hill's take on the gothic horror story is much shorter and less epic in scope; at only 164 pages, it's a quick read.
The Woman in Black begins with a bucolic Christmas scene in a British country home, that of a well-off lawyer some decades ago (the time frame is never completely referenced, but people use both horses and cars to get around, so presumably early 20th century). His Christmas with his family is a happy one, until his stepchildren announce they want to tell scary stories.
Turns out this lawyer, Arthur Kipp, has a dandy--but it's a story that actually happened to him and nearly ruined his life, and certainly permanently affected it. He decides he should write it down and put it away, with no one able to read it until after his death.
Early in his career, Arthur was sent to a remote village in northeast England to do an inventory of papers at the home of a client who had just died. The villagers, while friendly, give off a sense that something is really, really wrong at the house, and Arthur finds that to be true. But just how wrong, and how that will ultimately affect him, makes up the bulk of this slim book.
After reading it, I was browsing reviews on Goodreads and found quite a few people didn't like this book. I can see their points; some complain about predictability. Yes, it's true, I did figure out what was going on and what was going to happen. But you know what? For me, it worked. Partly because the narrative is set up in a way that's meant to be autobiographical, rather than scary. Arthur is writing the story of what happened to him, not to scare anyone (although he does), but to get it out of his system and record a traumatic event in his life. So, yes, there are plot points you can see coming a mile away, but author Hill still builds up the tension to incredible levels--it's as if you're in Arthur's head, you can see what's going to happen, you want desperately to prevent it, and you can't.
What could be scarier than that? Glad I finally pulled this off the TBR, and unlike Woman in White, I think there's a good chance I'll reread this in some future October.