Saturday, 23 October 2010

REVIEW The Small Hand by Susan Hill

It's very appropriate that the first book to arrive on the mailboat should be The Small Hand by Susan Hill. I say this, because one of my favourite books ever is The Woman in Black - one of the most intelligent, beautifully written and, frankly, downright terrifying ghost stories I have ever read. Horses for courses, some people don't find it scary - but I do. Nerve twistingly so.

Hill followed The Woman in Black with The Mist in the Mirror, and The Man in the Picture, and while both had their moments, they were sadly not a patch on their esteemed elder. I say sadly, because written by anyone else they would have been acclaimed; it was just that they stood against such a fantastic book and suffered slightly for this, I think. Unfortunately, The Small Hand follows suit. It just isn't as jaw dropping and unforgettably chilling as Woman in Black. That said, I will go out on a limb (ironic considering my location!) and say that is better than the previous two, and better on one vitally important point: it is scarier. While you are unlikely to lock all the doors, turn on all the lights and drink a pint of brandy (logical behaviour while reading The Woman in Black) there are moments where the tell-tale prickles will begin on your neck and arms, and you will feel that essential ghost story pull towards dread. Not always, or enough, but often. There's some more information about the book in the video below.

Hill has a natural gift for the timing of fear in a narrative, and the way that prose must be fluid for the creepiness to work. As a writer, she's not capable of clunkiness and so The Small Hand is always compelling and readable. It's definitely recommended here, and did on occasion have me checking behind me as I went down the spiral staircase to close the front gate, which always seems to spring open, no matter what I do.

If you loved The Woman in Black, you have probably bought this already. If you didn't, you're not likely to like this, and if you haven't read The Woman in Black, then I envy you immensely. It is a masterpiece awaiting you.