Thursday, 11 October 2018

READING RECORD | Rereading Susan Hill's Ghost Stories

I started sharing reading record posts this year, documenting all things reading and bookish in my life, posting them on a weekly basis - moving forward with this style of post, they will be shared typically on a monthly basis, however readathons & occasionally specific books will have their own dedicated reading record.

Today I'm sharing all about my recent experience rereading Susan Hill's ghost stories.

Adding to my already rather large TBR for the month of October, I've decided to reread all the Susan Hill ghost stories that I own. I have a bind up of five ghost stories that have been individually published, as well as a collection of four short stories. I'm starting this reread of mine by returning to one of my favourite ghost stories of all time: The Woman in Black. 

This evening I read a really good chunk of The Woman in Black, more than half the story, and will admit that part of the reason I didn't read further was because my husband went up to bed and I got a little creeped out reading alone (lol!). In my (scaredy cat) defence, I was at the point in the story where Arthur is at Eel Marsh House, all alone, and set up to start working on the organising of papers when he hears noises and the woman in black is alluded to. It is all very atmospheric, and I found myself getting the chills being on my own (okay, downstairs on my own) in my house.

Finished reading The Woman in Black, and upon closing the book, I couldn't help but think about just how much I enjoy this story. I don't know if enjoy is entirely the correct word, as I do find it to be pretty haunting, but as a ghost story I think it to be really well written, mapped our perfectly, and it works that perfect balance of being so simple and yet so dark - the kind of story that really stays with you. 

If you're unfamiliar with Susan Hill's The Woman in Black, Arthur Kipps recounts the supernatural encounter he happened upon when a young man. Working in a London based law firm, he was tasked with organising the papers of now deceased client Alice Drablow, who lived in the countryside in an isolated house - Eel Marsh House. He is met with hesitation, suspicions and general unease by most of the locals in town when mentioning his business, and he is soon the learn, first hand, exactly why that is.

'I've always known in my heart that the experience would never leave me, that it was now woven into my very fibres, an inextricable part of my past, but I had hoped never to recollect it, consciously, and in full, ever again.'

'I was growing impatient of the half-hints and dark mutterings made by grown men at the mention of Mrs Drablow and her property. I had been right, this was just the sort of place where superstition and tittle-tattle were rife, and even allowed to hold sway over commonsense.'

'But out of the marshes just now, in the peculiar fading light and desolation of that burial ground, I have seen a woman whose form was quite substantial and yet in some essential respect also, I had no doubt, ghostly.'

'I had seen the ghost of Jennet Humfrye and she had had her revenge.'

Through play, film and word I've experienced the story of The Woman in Black, and yet I never tire of it. It is worth mentioning that the 2012 film adaptation, starring Daniel Radcliffe, does deviate from the written form on a few elements of the plot. 

I definitely feel like I have formed some sort of tie/bond with The Woman in Black, hence why I talk about it so strongly and passionately, however it is a ghost story I would recommend checking out.

Having finished The Woman in Black during the morning, I decided to read one of the shorter stories within the bind up I own, that being The Man in the Picture.

Not a ghost story per se, but a tale full of foreboding and darkness, we learn of a story within a story within a story, with an old painting being a central character almost. 

Today I completed rereading The Travelling Bag and Other Ghostly Stories by Susan Hill. I had actually read the title story - The Travelling Bag - yesterday evening, and so today I read the other three stories within the collection - Boy Twenty-One, Alice Barker and The Front Room. This short story collection makes great material for reading within the one day, even allowing for breaks in between to fully absorb the stories within. 

After completing this collection, I looked back over my initial review (via Goodreads) and interestingly enough, my thoughts still hold regarding the four stories... With the last story, The Front Room, being my favourite.

This morning I finished the last few chapters remaining of my Dolly reread. I honestly didn't remember too much about this book, except that it features a creepy china doll, which the title eludes to. 

Told in four parts, Dolly is the story of Edward, and it spans from an occurrence in childhood and ends with the consequences of such in adulthood. Alongside Edward there is another prominent character - Leonora, Edward's cousin.

In part one we are introduced to Iyot House, and learn why Edward has now returned to a house that holds many childhood memories for him.

The second part explores these memories and in particular, one summer spent at Iyot House with his cousin, Leonora. Often memories of summer in youth are of fond and happy times, however that isn't the case for the one in which Edward is recalling. 

Part three continues from the first, as we see Edward and Leonora reunite in adulthood under unfortunate circumstances - their aunt, who Iyot House belonged to, has passed away and they are back to hear the reading of her will... Which doesn't quite go as some had hoped, namely Leonora. 

Concluding in part four, we read of saddening and tragic circumstances that befall Leonora, and in turn Edward's own family.

I realise that's a pretty vague description, however it is one of those story's in which it is best to not know the details going in - I will say that there is a focus throughout on china dolls and them not being all that they first appear to be... So if you're of the many who is creeped out by china dolls, or has a fear of them, then this definitely isn't the supernatural story for you. 

Whilst rereading Dolly, I once again came to admire how Susan Hill writes the settings and landscapes in which her stories take place. They are rich in description, and yet subtly haunting. I love that. 

I'm choosing to end my notes on Dolly with an unsettling quote from the book - 'I was acting alone and under the urging of something quite other.'

My last Susan Hill reread is now complete - that being The Small Hand. There is another story within the bind up I'm reading from, having read four of the five, however I did actually reread that particular ghost story (Printer's Devil Court) just earlier on this year, so see little point in rereading it again so soon. 

Anyway... The Small Hand. Of my rereads, this wasn't the best one. I remember this previously being my second favourite Susan Hill, and upon rereading I think I'd bump it down to third, with Dolly now taking second place. It could be the story, it could be the mood I was in when reading (most likely), but that's why I enjoy rereading so much - because whether a negative or a positive, each reading experience is a new one. You could read a book a million and one times, with none of those experiences being the same. I love that about books & rereading. 

So, back to the book... Having said The Small Hand is now my third favourite, I would like to clarify that I did still enjoy it as a story. 

In The Small Hand we meet Adam Snow, a rare book dealer, who finds himself lost on route to a client, and ends up in an overgrown garden that he found himself drawn to. Whilst there, he experiences something he can't quite explain - the feeling of a small hand clasping his own, despite being there quite alone. This incident leads to some more unsettling ones, long after leaving the house and gardens, and ultimately ends in tragedy.

Something I really picked up on in this story, although present throughout all of Susan Hill's ghost stories, is the suspense and fear she creates through foreshadowing. For example, the quote below is a passage from very early on in the story...

'I hardly recognise the person I was at the beginning of that journey. It is true I had had a strange encounter and been touched by some shadow, but I had pushed them to back of my mind; they had not changed me as I was later to be changed. I was able to forget. Now, I cannot.

I see those few days in a sunlit France as being days of light before the darkness, days of tranquillity and calm before the gathering storm. Days of innocence, perhaps.'

There are many great elements to a Susan Hill ghost story, as shared throughout this reading record of mine, but without a doubt, the way in which she pieces together a story is my favourite. 

It is no secret that I love a Susan Hill ghost story, and I'm glad to have made the time to pick up and immerse myself in some of them once again... And thankfully, I finished my reread just in time for some upcoming readathons I'm really looking forward to - Fraterfest & Spookathon. 


  1. I've never tried one of Susan Hill's story but after reading your review, I'm definitely interested in reading them. I'm a scaredy cat too, so I'll keep in mind that they're probably best read when I'm not alone, lol.

    1. Haha! I hope you enjoy if you do get round to reading a Susan Hill ghost story :-)

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