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Book review: The Woman in Black

susan hill

The Woman in Black is returning to Norwich Theatre Royal later this month. Inspired by the novel by Susan Hill (BOOK ZONE 823.91 HIL) it recasts lawyer Arthur Kipps as an ageing director and playwright. Only a few minutes into a final rehearsal, Arthur grows angry with his lead actor and decides to tell the story by himself. This tale-within-a-tale technique is often used in Gothic horror novels, where friends and family compete to give each other nightmares! The original begins when Arthur’s wife and children beg him to tell them a ghost story. He leaves in a terrible mood and locks himself away in his study, where he revisits his fateful trip to the derelict Eel Marsh House.

eel marsh

Young Arthur has been hired to clear a house belonging to Alice Drablow, a recently-deceased reclusive widow. As he is still a junior solicitor he is desperate to make an impression, but doesn’t get much help from the locals, who refuse to go near the marsh that cuts the crumbling mansion off from the mainland. Arthur works day and night to sort through mountains of paperwork, and starts to hear strange noises on the marsh outside. At Alice’s funeral, he sees some children staring at a dark-eyed, pale woman. A number of gruesome accidents follow, and the cries from the marsh get louder as Arthur tries to uncover the trail left by Alice and her sister. He has no doubt the Woman in Black is here to claim revenge, but if he wants to find out why he’ll need to stay at haunted Eel Marsh a little longer…

The play uses just two actors to help the audience feel the same abandonment as Arthur. When the tide comes in he is trapped at Eel Marsh House for at least 12 hours, and has no way to contact the villagers (who have made it very clear they won’t come near him!) The sprawling house is full of doors that open by themselves, rocking chairs that creak and VERY creepy dolls that come to life! The house isn’t safe- the marsh isn’t safe- and even after Arthur leaves, the Woman in Black still watches.


The Woman in Black isn’t too gruesome by today’s standards, but we recommend you read it with the lights on! If you liked The Woman in Black, try these:

The Woman in Black was released in 2012 by Hammer Films, who are famous for ‘B’-movies like Twins of Evil and The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb. Daniel Radcliffe stars as Arthur Kipps in one of his first roles post-Harry Potter. Be warned- Hammer have seen fit to give the film a happy ending!  The sequel Angel of Death is in cinemas now. Eel Marsh House has long been abandoned, but World War II is raging and the Ministry of Health decide it’s safe enough for children and their teachers to live. Amongst them is Thomas, who lost both parents to the blitz. His teacher Eve and local pilot Harry must figure out why Thomas, who can’t speak, is always drawing pictures of a mysterious woman in black.


The stage adaptation by Stephan Mallatratt (BOOK ZONE 822.910) is great to read after watching the play, to learn how the SFX team manage all the ghostly goings-on! If you’re feeling really brave, listen to the audio version (BOOK ZONE 823.91)

I’m the King of the Castle (BOOK ZONE 823.91 HIL) is another story by Susan Hill set in an old crumbling building. This time it’s the 1960s and 11 year old Charles is forced to live with 11 year old Edmund, the son of the man his mother works for. Edmund’s relentless bullying is ignored by Charles’ mother, who is convinced the two boys get along. Written in a ghost story style, this book slowly leads the reader to a grisly but inevitable conclusion.


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