16 May 2012

The Small Hand

Susan Hill has excited me ever since I picked up I'm the King of the Castle a few years ago, completely ignorant of her massive popularity and quiet chuffed thinking I had made some marvellous discovery all by my clever self (aaw bless). I also came to The Woman in Black far too late, spurred on by the fear of Harry Potter spoiling it all for me...

Although I have always felt fairly ambivalent about her crime series (reflecting my 'meh' feeling about crime fiction in general I suppose) I felt nothing but shivery anticipation picking up The Small Hand; a huge wave of relief washing over me at the neat little book that promised so much, particularly after the damp flannel of a Gaskell novel I have been suffering the hangover from since April...

Adam Snow is a mild mannered, solitary man; a prosperous intellectual and dealer in antiquarian books whose work takes him around the country and beyond; getting all warm and fuzzy about first edition Shakespeare folios and ancient manuscripts. On his way to see one particularly impassioned collector and customer, Adam loses his way, finding himself down a winding country road ending in an abandoned Edwardian house and gardens, once seemingly open for admiration to the public. As he stands at the gateway, Adam suddenly feels a small hand grasping his own:

'as I stood I felt a small hand creep into my right one, as if a child had come up beside me in the dimness and taken hold of it. It felt cool and its fingers curled themselves trustingly into my palm...'
p. 6

Although it is completely unfair to compare this book to its predecessor The Woman in Black, the comparison is inevitable and, perhaps to Susan Hill's detriment, I did it throughout. 

A good ghost story, particularly one after the traditions of M R James and Charles Dickens, never fails to impress and delight me (however predictable they might be). After the unrelenting wordiness and repetition of Mary Barton, Susan Hill's bare prose and clean, clear descriptions were precisely what I needed and Adam's fickle ghost (watching over him or out to harm him?) kept me guessing until the final chapters. 

My single reservation, and granted I understand it may be one that is quite personal given my taste in fiction, is that I found that the modern setting for this novel made everything, well, just not as scary as I'd hoped for. I wanted pure, unadulterated terror and got the occasional goosebump here and there. I found the narrator to be weaker than his Victorian counterpart and with tools at his disposable to remove himself from most unsafe/scary situations. What's the point in a ghost if you can escape from it?

Chilly (rather than chilling) with some unpredictable elements thrown in for good measure (Daddy Relish will be pleased), this was good and a welcome break ... but The Woman in Black is better. 

11 comments:

  1. This sounds great. I also discovered Susan Hill very recently after reading her World War I story, Strange Meeting (which was excellent). The Woman in Black is on my shelf waiting to be read, but this sounds like it might be a good choice for Susan Hill number 3.

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    1. Oooo, Strange Meeting? That's a new one to me is it a ghost story? My next is 'Mrs De Winter'. As a Daphne du Maurier lover it's definitely next on my list of Susan Hills to read.. :) I noticed you're reading 'When she woke' at the mo. Can't wait to hear what you think as its top of my TBR pile...like a modern Handmaid's Tale I'm hoping!

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    2. No, Strange Meeting hasn't got a ghost or ghoul anywhere! It's a story about two men who meet and become friends in the trenches in France during WW1 It's beautifully written and definitely one to bear in mind if you like that kind of book.

      Mrs de Winter sounds interesting. Rebecca's one of my all-time faves so that's going on my list too!

      I just finished When She Woke tonight - I'd been meaning to read it for ages as I loved Mudbound. It's got a fascinating premise (based on The Scarlet Letter), starts brilliantly, continues really well, but I thought it just lost its way at the end. It's still a great read though. I'll get a review up tomorrow :-)

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  2. The cover is stunning! I've never read any Susan Hill but will have to -- and I'm definitely going to add The Woman in Black to my TBR immediately!

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    1. The covers are so pretty aren't they? Have you seen the Woman In Black version? I bought it Mummy Relish for Christmas and it does look very nice on the bookshelf :-D Can't wait to hear what you think of it!

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  3. Is it bad of me to say that I've had this book since Christmas 2010 and still haven't read it yet?

    I've completed "The Woman In Black" after seeing the stage version. I may need to delve into this some time, bearing in mind the comment in the last sentence.

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    1. It is very bad of you yes (just kidding ;-D) I have had countless apparently earth-shatteringly good books on my shelves for years that I still haven't quite managed to get around to! The Small Hand is very good, and you may well prefer it to her most famous ghost story, but I like my ghosts a bit more hardcore and The Woman in Black just has the darkness I'm looking for :)

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  4. I've not heard of either this book nor The Woman in /black. I'm going to go get these. Thanks!

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    1. Do Ryan! I'm sure you'll love them :)

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  5. I'm following your blog and would love for you to take a peek at mine at: http://thethingsyoucanread.blogspot.com/ If you like what you see consider following. Love the Amelie photo-one of my favorite movies!

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    1. Hi Cynthia! Great blog :) It looks lots of fun and I will most certainly be adding you to my Google reader. Believe it or not I'm having huge problems with Google Friend Connect at the moment - I simply can't log in to follow people (hugely embarrassing when they are kind enough to follow me! - Is anyone else having this problem?) Do you tweet?!

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