…a desperate, yearning malevolence; it was as though she were searching for something she wanted–must have, more than life itself, and which had been taken from her. And, toward whoever had taken it she directed the purest evil and hatred and loathing, with all the force that was available to her. -Susan Hill
The story begins late in the protagonist’s, Arthur Kipps, life. A gentle, down to earth fellow, he is settled with family and property. Kipps is content to live out his days with his wife and four step sons. As they sit around the Christmas-time hearth, the boys begin to tell ghost stories (sounds like a creepy Christmas tradition, if you ask me.) Their tales done, they look to Kipps and ask if he has a story that might rival their own chilling stories. The mood becomes strained. Easy-going Kipps blanches, and excuses himself curtly as he strides for the front door. For there is a ghost story he knows…an event in his past that he has managed to bury beneath contentment. And as he stares out into the dark night, he decides that perhaps he might write it down, so that he might erase his unease from his heart. Thus, we plunge onward.
Kipps then reminisces to his youth, to the woman he was once engaged to, and to the business that required him to travel to Eel Marsh House, in order to sort through the late Alice Drablow’s paperwork…and into the adventure that would change his life forever.
This story did not make me feel ill. It did not cause my hands to shake, and it did not encourage my heart rate to increase.But it did creep into my imagination. As I read it alone in the dark of night, something close to fear kept me glancing up at the gaping maw of the closet, and the hunched figure of the desk near the window. And suddenly I was not reading about the young solicitor Arthur Kipps, I became him. And though my true self scoffs at ghost stories, the part of me that became Kipps as I read trembled down to my very soul as a very, very angry specter showed me how very unhappy she is.
Yet Kipps’ stalwart spirit is constantly to be admired. After a fearful night, Kipps rises up from his cramped position on the cold floor and discovers something of his own courage. …“But gradually, I discovered for myself the truth of the axiom that a man cannot remain indefinitely in a state of active terror. Either the emotion will increase until, at the prompting of more and more dreadful events…he is so overcome by it that he runs away or goes mad; or he will become by slow degrees less agitated and more in possession of himself.” Kipps then rises and faces the dark hallway.
There are no cheap scare moments in this story, and though I often felt more pity and dread than fear toward the tormented spirits, it did not lack a sense of impending fright. I found no curse words, and there is no inappropriate subjects brought up. As for mastery of the English language, the story gets a golden star. Hill’s wording is poetic, but not flowery. It flows as if it truly comes from a mild mannered English gentleman, who seeks to recount his horrifying tale as reasonably and frankly as he is able. The setting chosen for the story is perfect for classic, gothic horror, complete with creepy house, graveyard, and swampy marsh land that traps you with the nasties between the tides.