Now this is a ghost story!
After my disappointment at taking the plunge to scare myself witless with The Turning of the Screw and not getting so much as a shiver, I went for this one when I saw it for £1 in Reid of Liverpool. I saw it as a film one Christmas Eve some years ago on TV and it is one of the scariest things I have seen, (you can read about it on IMDb, read the users comments too). So I knew the story beforehand. It has also been adapted for stage as a play that has been on at the Fortune Theatre in London for over 20 years.
It starts on another Christmas Eve with another family telling ghost stories, leading Arthur Kipps to write down something unspeakable that happened to him earlier in his life.
As a young solicitor, level headed, engaged and with his whole life ahead of him, Kipps is sent to wind up an elderly lady's estate on the edge of a remote Northern England town. Misty and surrounded in marshes, the towns people are shifty and secretive, especially when Kipps explains his business there. At the womans funeral, attended only by himself and Mr Jerome, a local agent, Kipps sees a woman dressed all in black Victorian clothing, first at the back of the church and then in the graveyard some way from them. She appears to have a body wasting disease, her skin hangs on her bones. When Kipps asks Mr Jerome about her, the poor man becomes a dithering wreck, almost panicking to get away.
Kipps is obliged to go to the dead womans house to sort through her papers. She lived in a lonely house on the marshes, reachable only by a causeway at low tide. Only one person from the town will take him there. It is at Eel Marsh House that the main body of the story takes place. Kipps is determined that local superstition will not deter him and he decides to stay at the house to avoid the difficulties that arise getting to it. Poor naive soul!
With all the elements of a good haunting, suffused with good doses of malevolence and menace, this part of the book rockets along without pausing for breath, towards its conclusion.
This is a ghost story in its traditional sense, lots of gothic imagery, scene setting, and gentle tension building. When the roller coaster has finished its climb, the main part of the story whooshes along relentlessly with barely a breath.
I have always said that ghost stories scare me, a lot, and this one did raise my blood pressure more than once. Had I not known the story I may have found the tension and unpredictability more than I could cope with. Thank goodness for Spider, the little dog who stays with Kipps at the house. There is a decent story behind the happenings, leaked to us in pieces like a good mystery. The book uses lots of anticipation to keep us on the edge of our seat. All in all I found it an enjoyably exciting story, well paced and interesting with a number of scenes that made me nervous more than actually frightened (unlike the film where I thought my heart was coming through my ribs and I watched most of it peeping behind a cushion!).
Susan Hill has her own website where you can read about this book and her other work.
Readers Place also have a reading guide that includes starting points for discussion.
I read this for #11 of the 2009 mini challenges, to read something that was out of your comfort zone.