I'm still in a bookish mood (aka, my allergies are annoying the hell out of me and I'm pissed), and it's a rainy day at the end of May, so I figured I'd throw Susan Hill's The Woman In Black at you along with my offensive mood. I picked up this book a few months back when partaking in another episode of my search for the scariest fiction ever. People all over the world wide whatever have recommended this book claiming it was truly freaky. I guess I'm freakier than truly freaky, because I put this book (on a scale of craptastic to awesome) at meh/good.
WTF = 18
W = 7
T = 6
F = 5
The gist of the story is estate lawyer Arthur Kipps (in hopes that his ready ability to more or less kiss ass and take difficult jobs will land him a promotion) follows orders from his boss to go to this small town called Crythin Gifford to handle the affairs of the newly deceased Ms. Alice Drablow and her lovely property Eel Marsh House. At the time of reading this piece, the names of characters and places didn't make me laugh, but in retrospect it does seem a little silly. This is styled in kind of an Edith Wharton voice, so you have the prim and proper people besieged by the ghost of an undone woman, her tragedy, her vengeance, all told in prim and proper voice.
Anyway, Kipps soon gets drawn into the mess and ultimately pays his own price for assuming he can just doodle around with dead people's stuff, even though he's just trying to do his job. I'm not ruining the story (you know I don't believe in spoilers), as the story is told in retrospect from an aged and shellshocked old guy who's had to rebuild his life since his time in the small haunted town. Think of this as a really British Ringu.
The story, in some ways, reads like it was written in the first half of the 20th century, and I think I probably would have been fooled if not for the silliness of a name like "Eel Marsh House" to check the copyright date and discover it was written in 1983. That Hill received the W. Somerset Maugham award is also something. There's something brave about her writing in a style that is not contemporary, bringing it back to the early 20th century in voice and in story. But I also felt there was unreached potential for the story to be maddeningly frightening.
Perhaps it's the dialog, perhaps it's the character interplay. I do not know. And this is not to say that I don't like the ridiculous. I do really like the description of the woman herself, her wasted face, how she lingers on the edge of sight like an illusion. How people of the town shun anything to do with her out of total fear. How the children die. That's freaking awesome. But I put the book down disappointed, not with the story but how parts of it seemed rushed, like they were holding out on being completely mindbending because unleashing more would be completely...un British? I don't know. That's mean. But, I guess there's something to say for reading something that feels like there's a tennis racket wedged up your ass a little further with each new description of something that would normally drive a person batshit.
Is this a case for more realism? No. This book is what it is. And I'm being harsh. But for one second, picture yourself in a bed in a dark abandoned house. Outside the wind and sea beat against the land. You have never ever before in your life been so alone and you are a young person. You can hear what sounds like distant screaming but don't want to admit it to yourself. Suddenly you hear movement, the opening of a door. Footsteps. Creaking stairs. Tell me, just tell me you would not be more or less shitting your pants? I mean, depicting shitting one's pants would probably ruin the mood of the story, but you get the idea. You don't hold it together, rationalize it, or go to investigate. You hide. You run. People are more or less creatures that run away when they are scared. I'm not asking for realism: after all poop isn't really scary. But cut the paint by number, "I doubted what I saw and so I calmed myself down and went for a flashlight and a cup of tea" and scare me. This is the best I can do to describe why this book doesn't broach above a 20 on my scale. I read it always wanting more (not in the good way), and ended it with an, "...oh."
There have been adaptations of this book. One made-for-TV show that people claimed was scary but I had to laugh my ass off. I've included the clip that people claim was so terrifying that if you put it in replay it's the most hysterical thing. Another was a play adapted by this guy Mallatrat. Have not seen the play, though there have been many good reviews and it is something I'd be interested in seeing adapted given that most theater doesn't really aim to scare. It's just not the most common genre especially when you have so many idiots who want a fucking love story. But then again, I am reticent as Broadway generally makes me want to barf into my playbill. I've never seen a show that's good enough to convince me that the actual definition of a Broadway show (particularly musicals) is not the ritualistic translation of a story so that retards can understand it. I know, I'm being cruel again. I'm too sick to be politically correct. In other news, this review is well-timed because in December 2011, I believe Hammer (could not wrong, too lazy to check, do it yourself) is coming out with another version starring what's his face from Harry Potter who has grown up to look like Uncle Jessie from Full House.
Am I wrong? Ok, whatever. I actually do plan on seeing this movie (though probably when it's available on Netflix because I hate spending 10$ so I can have feet sticky with old soda and listen to someone's snotty kids ask stupid questions - they should see the Broadway version!) when it's available. My hope is that the directors will have picked up on that feeling of holding back that bothered me throughout the story. My hope is that they will give the actual storyline behind the woman in black more clarity and connection to why she seeks revenge to others, why her spirit is so unforgivably malign. For some reason or another, I think Radcliffe might be able to pull of the bumbling young Kipp, but we'll see. We'll see indeed.
Because it's so short and sweet, I would totally recommend reading this book on a rainy day like this. It's not by any means a bad book. Also when you check out this clip of the first TV adaptation below (totally not what happens in the book) watch the clip first, then go to 1:14 and keep replaying it a few times just for shits n' giggles. I know I'm twisted, but do it and tell me how ANY director didn't see how her eyes were crossed and how this has all the makings for a great comedy scene.