In honor of Valentine’s Day (and as a reward to myself fo reaching a personal goal) I bought a copy of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black* from one of my other favorite book stores**. The stage version has been running in the West End for 23.5 years now, nothing to sneeze at. Supposedly, it’s one of the most terrifying experiences you can have in the live theater. I’ve been dying to get my hands on the script for a while, but it’s fairly difficult to find. As I point out to my students often enough, plays are meant to be heard. So why not experience the story as it’s meant to be? Read the novel if you’re going to read, see the play if you want to hear it aloud. I shelled out $14.00 to Porter Square Books and looked forward to an exciting train ride home, followed by vigil for the Feast of Our Lord’s Circumcision.
By the time I finished the book, it was half way through vigil, and I needed a hug from my mom before I could leave the house. Returning home that night, I hid the book under a pile of clothes and prayed harder than I have in quite a while. Nearly a month later I’m still trying to shake it. Talk about the power of imagination!
I’m still trying to sort out exactly what it was that set me off. It’s incredibly well structured (only around 200 pages!). The characters are likable (or not) enough. There was some sort of catharsis at the end (oh, the end! Even if you see it coming it is awful, awful, awful).
After careful consideration (preceded by a gut feeling), I think a good deal of it has to do with the quality of the villain. She doesn’t say anything, a common enough trope. There’s a relatively long lead up to the big reveal (who IS she?), but that’s not the crux of it. The best I can come up with is this: When we first hear the woman in black described in detail, Hill manages to capture something absolutely evil, even (perhaps) demonic. Her account of the woman’s appearance manages to convey despair, malevolence, hatred, and pride.
(I’ve chosen to refrain from posting the quote because it still kind of wigs me out.)
I think it’s perhaps the final element that makes the woman unique. It’s not the hatred- it’s the absolute certainty of being right in her hatred that moves me.
What makes a book terrifying? Is a book good if it’s terrifying? Can a book be good if it’s terrifying? Why would you want to scare yourself?
Any way, read at your own peril. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
** Still lame! Gah! http://www.portersquarebooks.com/