50 Scariest Books of All Time: The Woman in Black


If you’ve been following along, I am reading and reviewing my way down one website’s list of the 50 scariest books of all time. Today I bring you review #2.

The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill


You may remember the movie based on this from 2012, starring Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe. The story is of Arthur Kipps, who getting late in life is beckoned by his step-children to recall a ghost story to them on Christmas eve. Angry and frustrated he storms from the house, upset that the ghosts of his past have been stirred again in his mind, clearly hoping to have forgotten some event that happened to him earlier in his life. Determined to set his ghost tale to paper in an attempt to forget – he gives us the tale of the woman in black.

Arthur’s story is a classic gothic-style ghost tale. He’s sent to a secluded home to wrap up the affairs of a recently deceased client of his. He gets many vague hints from the local townsfolk of a potential bad situation going on at the house, but he shrugs them off and doesn’t think twice about the place. He finds himself being haunted by a ghost – the woman in black – however. The bulk of his story is the strangeness he experiences over a few days at the old house.

I found myself a little underwhelmed by this book. Not so much really that I hated it, or regretted taking the time to read it. If I was lost on an island with only this to read, I wouldn’t be so furious as to not pick it back up and enjoy it again…I just felt that it could have been more than it was.

I think honestly it just left me more sad than it did scared or chilled. Yes, there is a ghost….and yes she’s got herself a pretty bad mean streak, but the events that unfold are more sad than anything at all.

I did see the movie when it came out, and reviewed it here. I did go to film school, but find myself more than I’d like to admit muttering that familiar term, “the book was better” we all hear our friends mutter when a movie based on a novel is made. I’m going to break tradition in this case and say that I found the movie better. The suspense and terror were more felt on-screen than on paper, for me at least. I actually found the movie really scary, and being the crazy horror nerd that I am I don’t find scary movies all that scary very often.

All that being said, I’d probably give the book 3.5 out of 5 stars. It’s under 200 pages so a really fast read, it’s not so terrible that it’s a waste of time to read, but maybe you should also go check the movie out as well.

50 Scariest Books of All Time (2 down, 48 to go)

  1. It – Stephen King
  2. Piercing – Ryu Murakami
  3. The Exorcist – William Peter Blatty
  4. Ghost Story – Peter Straub
  5. American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis
  6. Hell House – Richard Matheson
  7. Dracula – Bram Stoker
  8. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  9. The Best of H.P. Lovecraft – H.P. Lovecraft
  10. The Turn of the Screw – Henry James
  11. House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski
  12. The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
  13. The Silence of the Lambs – Thomas Harris
  14. Rosemary’s Baby – Ira Levin
  15. The Amityville Horror – Jay Anson
  16. The Trial – Frankz Kafka
  17. Books of Blood – Clive Barker
  18. Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy
  19. Heart-Shaped Box – Joe Hill
  20. Carrion Comfort – Dan Simmons
  21. The Complete Tales and Poems – Edgar Allan Poe
  22. Dawn – Octavia Butler
  23. We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver
  24. The Girl Next Door – Jack Ketchum
  25. The Painted Bird – Jerzy Kosinski
  26. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
  27. The Cipher – Kathe Koja
  28. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
  29. The Ruins – Scott Smith
  30. Ghost Stories of an Antiquary – M. R. James
  31. Naomi’s Room – Jonathan Aycliffe
  32. The Ritual – Adam Nevill
  33. Johnny Got His Gun – Dalton Trumbo
  34. Incarnate – Ramsey Campbell
  35. The Woman in Black – Susan Hill
  36. The Great God Pan – Arthur Machen
  37. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark – Alvin Schwartz
  38. The October Country – Ray Bradbury
  39. White is for Witching – Helen Oyeyemi
  40. Let the Right One In – John Ajvide Lindqvist
  41. I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream – Harlan Ellison
  42. The Collector – John Fowles
  43. The Store – Bently Little
  44. Penpal – Dathan Auerbach
  45. In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
  46. Swan Song – Robert R. McCammon
  47. The Wolfen – Whitley Strieber
  48. The Hot Zone – Richard Preston
  49. The Killer Inside Me – Jim Thompson
  50. 1984 – George Orwell