Category: Susan Hill

book review: The Small Hand by Susan Hill

“Do I believe in ghosts? The question is common enough and, if asked, I usually hedge my bets by saying, ‘Possibly.’ If asked whether I have seen one, of course until now I have always said that I have not.”

Rather than scared the feeling on competition of this story was one of sadness. Mysteries of the past have the ability to emerge into the present and do great harm to those that thought they had left the past far behind them.

Having introduced the idea of a decrepit house and a ghostly presence of a child in just the few pages the story of the house and the small hand then unfold over the rest of the story.

The main character, rare book dealer Adam Snow, stumbles on the White House and its over grown and falling down house and garden on his way back to London from an appointment in Sussex. To get to the house he has to push past the brambles and the old gateway where visitors would have paid to visit the garden and in that quiet and chilly setting a small hand seems to enter his own. The presence of a child, a ghostly hand, that Adam feels as if it were real.

He then has to discover if he is going mad or whether or not the small hand is destined to haunt him for a long time. A well crafted story of hidden events of the past starts to unravel slowly and Adam suffers a few more spine chilling encounters before the truth is discovered.

Unlike the Woman in Black you don’t read this frightened to turn the page but rather hurry along wanting to find out how the story unfolds. It is disturbing and the question of ghosts is one that both the character and the reader would have to think about. Do you believe in them? That question dominates Adam and starts to nag at the back of your own mind.

As a yuletide ghost story to be read against a backdrop of cold dark nights it’s the choice of the moment and while it won’t have you frightened to close your eyes it delivers a slower scare leaving darker thoughts lurking in your mind.

Thoughts at the half way point of The Small Hand

Ghost stories are not something I read with great regularity so I’m not sure of the form. But on limited experience this seems to go slightly against the norm. Instead of a growing sense of dread creeping up on you before the first ‘sighting’ of something supernatural the small hand is introduced very early on.

Having said that the sense of a small child holding a man’s hand is introduced but the reason for the hand, the story behind it and the consequences for the man in the story, Adam Snow, are going to take a while to become clear.

By the half way point he has suffered a few more moments of feeling the hand with an increasing sense that the power behind it means him harm. Advised by monks to face his fear he sets out once again to the dilapidated house he first felt the hand to find the source of the mystery and to conquer his fears.

A review follows shortly…

book review – The Various Haunts of Men – Susan Hill

This book takes a long time to open up and Susan Hill is investing a great deal of time in developing the landscape of the world where the story is set.

Through the eyes of a newcomer to the area the Cathedral town of Lafferton is detailed with the key family of the Serrallier’s coming through via the interaction of the new arival Freya Graffham and her interaction with the mother, father and sister of her boss detective chief inspector Simon Serrallier.

Having seen the words “Simon Serrallier story” on the front you expect the story to unfold based on him. But the opposite happens and even near the end he fails to step into prevent some of the bad things happening. It’s not until you get through a couple of hundred pages that the killings start to make any sort of sense.

The story of a serial killer on the loose does grip you although the chapters being broken with the details of the killer confessing didn’t do a great deal for me. It picked up its pace towards the end and Hill does manage to use the world she has created as a clever backdrop to dark deeds. The comfort and love that can be found leaving a choir group at the cathedral can also turn threatening when the darkness and fear creeps down Cathedral Close.

Ultimately with a thriller that is part of a series the question of success is around the question of whether or not the reader will go onto see how the series develops. I will, not in a rush, but I will at some point. But one of the main motivations for that will be to see if Simon Serralier actually has more to do with cracking crimes in the next volume.

Thoughts at the halfway point of The Various Haunts of Men

It takes a while for this to get to the point where you start to click how and who has been murdered. But you can understand why because the dominos are being lined up and the pace should crank up as they topple one by one.

Hill leads you gently by the hand into a Cathedral town where the local doctor and top policeman are related and both actively trying to keep the townsfolk healthy and protected.

But in the face of alternative health and what looks like a serial killer both are going to be tested to the limit.

It has been a slowish start but with things now ready the second half should motor along.

Review will come shortly…

Thoughts at the half way point of The Woman in Black

It has been a long time since anything ghostly set the hairs on the back of my neck up but already by the half way point in this book it has happened once and the prospect of it happening again are very high.

Hill weaves in a well crafted story. You know that the narrator survives because after all he is relating this story many years later but you also sense that he managed to get through his experience by a narrow margin.

Set against a backdrop of a simpler world the junior solicitor Arthur Kipps accepts the task of heading off into the back of beyond for his employer to catalogue the papers of one of their elderly and deceased clients. he arrives to find a village unwilling to talk about the house on the coastal flats, cut off by the high tide, and not prepared to help him deal with the task of getting to grips with the late Mrs Drablow papers.

The brave Kipps heads out to the house alone to try and deal with things but the strange events start to happen and you fear for his sanity as well as his life…

Howards End is on the Landing – post II

Avoiding the risk of repetition the other point to make about Howards End is the way chapters are used to group together genres or authors. A personal library is rarely an A to Z listing by rather has grown organically with books either lumped together on the basis of date purchased or in the case of Hill by type and author.

The result is that you get chapters which become almost short stories in themselves as she tells of her meetings, friendships and the influences of writers that she has known and this makes it both easy to digest the numerous book titles bein recommended but also gives you pause for thought to examine the way your own books have been selected and your feelings towards them.

Although as Powell had one of his characters saying “books do furnish a room” there is also an emotional dimension to why they are on the shelves in the first place and that is something Hill oozes and reminds you not to forget when thinking, caring and reading your own library.

A review will follow soon…

Howards End is on the Landing – post I

At first coming across this book you half wonder what on earth it will be like between the covers. A year of reading conjures up certain ideas. The most obvious of course is the idea of a chronological ‘january, february etc etc’ but it is done in such a wonderfully engaging way the best description is of sitting in on a conversation.

But this is not just a conversation with some one who owns a lot of books but can tell you about the reasons for those books being in her home and the stories behind them. So this becomes a memoir, a celebration of literature but also a chance to talk about the oddities of publishing – the small books issued for Christmas and rarely read.

Hill is well travelled in the literary world but has a great ability to lay out the joy of reading so that anyone who shares even one tenth of her enthusiasm finds themselves nodding along and taking inspiration from her library.

More tomorrow…