When I saw The Woman in Black on a shelf at one of my favorite book haunts I knew I just had to buy it. Having finished reading The Woman in White not very long ago, it seemed like this book would make a nice pair. Looks like I’m reading a lot of “women” these days, if I take into consideration Little Women as well.
The blurb on the back cover promised a wonderful, mysterious tale with a house in the middle of nowhere and an equally mysterious woman dressed in black, of course. Who was she and what was her secret I wondered, and I decided I wanted to find out.
The story is told by Arthur Kipps, and it’s revealed gradually and painfully, much like some sort of confession, something he needed to get off his chest. The events happened years ago, when Arthur was a young solicitor working for a firm in London and dreaming of starting a family together with Stella, his fiancé. One of his job assignments takes him to Eel Marsh House, whose owner, a Mrs Drablow had just died leaving no other known relatives behind. Arthur is asked to go to the funeral and then to the house to sort through some papers to see if he can find anything of legal importance. Little does he know this apparently mundane task will haunt his dreams and thoughts for many years to come.
His arrival at Gifford Arms, the inn where he was supposed to stay for the length of his journey, brings him in contact with the local people, and it is here where he tries to find out more about the owner of Eel Marsh House. Strangely enough, while not being exactly rude, those whom he speaks to about the place seem reluctant to say much about Mrs Drablow or her house. From the inn keeper to Mr Daily, the first resident of the place that Arthur meets, to Mr Jerome, the agent who had dealt with the property and such land matters connected with Mrs Drablow, to the local farmers and even Mr Keckwick, the man who was assigned the task of taking him to the house and back again in a pony cart, Arthur cannot obtain any relevant information no matter how much he tries. Determined not to let that stand in his way, he embarks on the task with the diligence and thoroughness one displays in cases when one knows this is a job that needs to be done as quickly and efficiently as possible.
This is where the best part of the book begins. At the funeral of Mrs Drablow he sees the woman in black, and because her unnatural appearance and manner of dress look a bit out of place, Arthur cannot help but feel curious about her presence there. His questions are deflected, and the people he asks seem unwilling to dispel the mystery of her presence at the funeral, although it’s quite apparent they know who she is. Undaunted by their reluctance, Arthur decides to stay at Eel Marsh House in the hope of doing his job quickly and perhaps finding more about the enigmatic woman. Mr. Daily, not wanting him to be there alone but at the same time not giving any reason for that, offers to lend him Spider, one of his dogs, and I must say I loved the little animal and the role she played in the story.
I have to say the house intrigued me the most. The locked room, the door without a keyhole, now open and then closed, the fleeting appearance of the woman in places where logic dictates she shouldn’t have been, the screaming sounds in the marshes near the house, all these were elements which contributed harmoniously to creating the dark atmosphere of the story. The author managed to build up the tension little by little, and the creepiness and dread that led to the final moment were perfectly combined to give the reader a satisfying reading experience. I wish I could tell you how the book ends but I won’t. What I can say is that it’s a wonderfully good creepy story which made me wish there was a sequel. I would have very much liked some sort of closure to the tormented tale of the woman in black.
*Read in July 2011