Tag Archives: horror

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


Filed under Fiction, Horror, Supernatural, Thriller

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies- Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

In my last post I claimed Wuthering Heights was no Austen, and so following that I chose to read an Austen novel- of sorts. Naturally I went for a well read classic but my choice was of a very modern revision of those well-loved characters such as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy.

Pride and Prejudice and zombies is as true to Austen’s original as a revision could possibly be. It is my opinion that this was Seth Grahame-Smith’s plan, and is well executed enough to retain all the core aspects which Austen wished to narrate. It is quirky enough to give a reader, who’s copy of the original is well thumbed, something a little different. Though in keeping with Austen’s style of prose, the fair few zombie related and violent escapades were not wholly gripping- and thus again did not detract from the original text.

I largely found myself reading forward to see which bits had been re-written, which were a little different and which were exactly the same. Admittedly I was disappointed by how little change there was, particularly in chapters involving the horribly pretentious Miss Bingley. The bits that were re-written were done well. Seth Grahame-Smith engaged well and at times thoroughly with the idea of Zombies across the land. Particularly interesting was his take on becoming a zombie and the pre-zombie life of someone who succumbs to the ‘strange plague’- this most engagingly done through Charlotte Lucas. These elements are often missing from various other works of horror, science fiction and fantasy.

The violent warrior mentality brought out in the dual personality of Elizabeth Bennet rather suited her. Though initially I felt her lust for ‘truth’ was mis-communicated as a lust for vengeance, this turns her character rather more violent,especially towards Mr Darcy, than was expected. This hidden nature is extremely prominent in this modern version of a classic tale, but is never alluded to (in my reading) in Austen’s version. Therefore the reader is treated to Grahame-Smith’s own instincts and capabilities with an adopted character. A novel of his own would certainly be interesting.

Having only access to my own copy, it must be said that the illustrations throughout were wonderful. These only added to the eagerly described zombies (when they did feature), and the inclusion of the Bennet’s sister’s warrior skills on the  whole, is often so well placed that the further you read, the more subtle and well-blended to Austen’s prose and character determination; these traits and indications of author originality become. Once or twice I even caught myself thinking back- wondering if they had always had these attributes!

A reader expecting large chunks to be utterly changed and chock-a-block of zombie killing sprees will be disappointed. However, a reader with a preference for the classics, but a likeness for delving into the modern or even gruesome; will appreciate the retained structure and essence of this as an adaptation.

By the time I’d reached chapter 35, in which Elizabeth receives Darcy’s explanatory letter, I was well and truly sucked in. It is, as always, at this point that I decided which characters I like and dislike and forth. The adapted version of Darcy’s letter has an element of fun breathed into an otherwise- and still is- very intense moment for Elizabeth. But honestly, the great Mr Darcy mistaking a cold for the plague- really?! Having said that, that is precisely the whole reasoning behind the novel.

The most interesting side character in this take on Pride and Prejudice is timid Charlotte Lucas. An otherwise forgettable character, slowing succumbing to a zombie state of existence, before being beheaded. The depiction and fascination of the human body makes real links to the Nineteenth Century’s horror stories, as Grahame-Smith takes us again and again, through the changes which Charlotte goes through. But luckily does not over do it, as is so easily done. Charlotte is at least allowed to retain some of the dignity with which Austen ascribed to the future Mrs Collins.

Other variations in the plot include a rather different state of marriage for Mr Wickham and Lydia Wickham . The fate in this novel is rather more severe, more deserved and wholly more satisfactory to the reader. In essence, they really do get what is coming to them, and honestly it is the one of my top three most satisfactory conclusions of the entire novel. In addition the minute change to Mary Bennet’s character, upon her elder sisters leaving the family home, is rather amusing and could in fact be a subject for her own novella, should anyone at Quirk Classics have the inclination.

I feel I should also add that there were several sporadic moments of comedy which went beyond Austen. These certainly would not have been accepted by a conservative Victorian audience, but I loved them and laughed with Seth Grahame-Smith as he slyly comments on Mr Darcy’s ‘most English parts’!

This was certainly Austen-esque enough for my liking. Overall Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a horror, comedic, romantic medley which allows both authors to periodically amuse, shock and entertain. What more could a reader ask for?

© Gemma Feltham January 29 2013


Filed under Jane Austen