Category Archives: Thriller

The Woman in Black – Susan Hill

My latest read was fuelled by a desire to conquer my fear, a genuine attempt at tackling one of my long-standing fears head on. So I read The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.

Firstly let me clarify that I have had a fear of The Woman in Black since I was 16! My first encounter was seeing the play at the theatre with the rest of my Drama class. As much as I could tell you what an amazing performance it was, and how the minimalist effects were perfectly executed- it was so much more. It was an outstanding performance which has successfully cemented a fear in me of The Woman in Black. Just thinking about it makes me shiver, and afterwards I had nightmares for 2 months. Now that’s some performance!

Then there came the film with Daniel Radcliffe in the role of Arthur Kipps. Admittedly there are differences between the film and the theatre adaptations, but these were to be expected. But the film succeeded in re-instating my fear of The Woman in Black, and taking it to a whole new level. The film brought The Woman in Black’s dreadful and terrifying face right into my personal space- I must get round to writing a thank you card to the relative who bought me the DVD!
To this day there are parts of that film that I have not been able to watch, simply because I was able to watch the sequence leading up to it, and then my nerves gave out and the cushion moved in front of my face, so fast it’s become a permanent reflex whenever The Woman in Black is mentioned.

It wasn’t until I saw my brother with a copy of Susan Hill’s novel The Woman in Black, that I then realised that both the film and theatre productions are adaptations from an existing work; therefore I’d done it all backwards!

The Woman in Black

So moving on to my most recent encounter with The Woman in Black….Susan Hill’s novel was much more subtle and eerie than I imagined. She successfully depicts the drab and desolate Eel Marsh House so poignantly that it’s an image hard to forget.
I didn’t know what else to expect from the novel, but I enjoyed the reminiscent ‘retelling’ perspective. Whatever horrors the story revealed, there was a survivor, able to tell the harrowing tale in great detail.

Somehow when reading Kipp’s tragic story, it hit me much harder than it did when I saw the play or film- and don’t forget the film ends completely differently to the book. Hill shows literary skill in creating such an ordinary character, whose life bears no resemblance to my own; and yet throughout the novel I cared for him. I cared for his welfare; for his sanity and for his family; almost as much as I care for my own.

What many readers forget in heavy action or mystery novels are the easy to miss, mundane and everyday occurrences. But rather than skip these events, Hill uses them to build her readers a solid picture of Arthur Kipps; giving us a reliable and believable centre for the plot. The relating of normal, everyday events makes the supernatural events starker than they would have been if the entire novel was littered with them. In fact I was surprised by the end, when you count the relatively few encounters Arthur Kipps has with The Woman in Black, the affect those encounters had not only on Kipps but myself as well…if you’re not even slightly shaken by the retelling of Kipp’s story, then you’re made of stronger stuff than me.

I did find the ending a little bleak as it seemed to just tail off into nothing. It did end for Mr Kipps at least, that much was clear. But it was a little abrupt; it’s not quite a cliff-hanger so there’s no build up or expectation for a second novel; but you don’t get much satisfaction in it either. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected more from a thriller/ horror novel, but I did want more for poor Mr Kipps.

Did reading the novel put my fears to rest? Well not so much, for a few nights I was jumpy amongst the hallway shadows. But I did feel I understood Arthur Kipps and his story much better, and enjoyed the experience whilst reading it. Those chapters which delved into the back story of The Woman in Black were fascinating, I simply wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery- I wanted to be able to put her spirit to rest. When a book can give you the same chills as a play or film, then you know you’re onto something good!

© Gemma Feltham, 25th July 2015

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Filed under Fiction, Horror, Supernatural, Thriller

Inferno by Dan Brown

Following a suitably short, but none-the-less intriguing if rather stark and violent prologue, in the first chapter of Dan Brown’s Inferno, readers are greeted by a very confused Dr Robert Langdon; immediately readers are thrust into this latest fast-paced, nightmarish adventure. Having read many of Brown’s previous novels, being re-acquainted with Robert Langdon felt like meeting an old friend, familiar but new at the same time because it’s been a while. It was a lovely feeling which allowed me to immediately sink into the novel and I dare say other readers would feel the same.

Characters who initially suffer from amnesia or memory loss as Langdon does are fascinating, because there are endless scenarios, multiple possibilities which could explain how they came to be in that predicament. It is always an exciting adventure finding out exactly what happened; and in doing so Brown allows readers to indulge in making up their own answers, before the secrets are revealed. But of course painstakingly revealing secrets is Langdon’s (and therefore Brown’s) forte. Combine this literary technique with a rapidly changing pace and the inclusion of both long and short chapters, and you’ve got a novel which grips and pulls at a reader’s every sense and emotion.

InfernoAs is my usual thoughts on Brown, Inferno is gripping, full of suspense, eloquently detailed (although some may feel it’s overly descriptive) and educational in a fun way. Art History has never been so appealing! In comparison to The Da Vinci Code I found Inferno somewhat darker in tone. This comes from the very nature of the possible impending threat, a topic which is very much at the fore front of the global political agenda, the nature of some of the characters and some quite shocking and stark violence within the pages. Whilst you hope never to be in Robert Langdon’s shoes, as a reader you get a thrilling and adrenaline-fuelled adventure to enjoy from your sofa, bed, bath or wherever!

In particular I must praise Brown for his ability to convey to the reader everything Langdon sees, hears and feels. There is a fluidity to the novel each revelation, clue cracked and new location appears sequentially with ease, again the change in pace and length of chapters assists with this. You do not merely have to be a spectator, Brown gives his readers the opportunity (through his literary prowess) to step into the novel and become Langdon, his companions and to an extent even his adversaries.  Inferno is full of plot twists and turns, cliff-hangers and extremely detailed and intriguing back stories, for characters whose role in the novel is often not fully explained or understood; until it is revealed at the very end. The deceptions revealed in chapters 81 and 82 in particular I found truly astounding- I never saw them coming! At one point I was so stunned I closed my book and just thought about what I had just read. The level of thought put into the concoction of deceptions such as Brown’s; if they truly exist in the world well… but each reader will make of that what they will, but it makes for very gripping and very entertaining reading

There is some repetition within the novel, and at times the amount of paragraphs given to describing the numerous places and countries Inferno involves can be distracting from what is an otherwise a well-established plot. One does wonder how much of the description is for the scriptwriters of the film, and how much is for the actual readers.

Overall I think it’s a good addition to the adventures of Robert Langdon. Fans should find it enjoyable to read but also those just being introduced to Dan Brown’s novels will find they can equally enjoy the novel without needing to have read any of his previous books. Despite the numerous negative reviews out there this series will always be one of my favourites and I will continue to buy Brown’s novels, simply because of the experience I get when reading them.

© Gemma Feltham 15 June 2014

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Filed under Adventure, Crime, Mystery, Thriller