Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Review "The Woman In Black..." by Susan Hill

This is going to be an, um, different sort of review. I say that as a warning, because yours truly was brilliant enough (gah!) to actually get the movie that was based on this book. Yes, I know. So, I am going to review both, and do little comparison.

The Book: The Woman In Black is very much a classic ghost story. No clown in the sewers or vampire next door, this is your good, old fashioned ghost story. A little spooky, a little scary, and told in the first person so that you feel like you are the character being stalked. All in all, it's exactly what you would expect of something from this genre.

The opening was a nice overlay of ominous over innocuous. There is a bit about the past, just a glimpse to show there is tension, then it picks up in the here and now, narrated by a man who is enjoying the Christmas season with his step-children and his wife. Then the boys begin a game of ghost stories, and from there, the real tale begins to unravel. We are taken back in time, not necessarily as a memory flashback, but in the guise of the narrator writing his story down. The beginning of that story, too, opens with the same ominous overtones on an ordinary day, when the man was young and optimistic.

After being sent by his boss to deal with the estate of a Mrs. Drablow, the narrator finds himself in a small town with a dark little secret. Of course, this is something that is kept from him, and from us, until nearly the end of the book. This secret is tied to the Drablows, and to their home, Eel Marsh House, which is set out on a small island away from the town. It's the unraveling of the secret that was interesting to read, watching this logical man sink into fear because of what he hears and sees. The setting, mainly Eel Marsh House, and the way it is cut off from the rest of the world makes it even more of a traditionally scary story. There is a ghost, naturally, but it's what that ghost does, and what occurs around the specter that makes it more than just a story where she pops out and yells, "Boo!".

In the end, which I refuse to give away, you can understand the man's reluctance to tell his tale. You know why he doesn't take the game of ghost story as a lark. It became serious business, business that still haunts him, and you realize it will until the day he dies.

The bad of the story? There is a lot of exposition. There is plenty of inner dialogue that tends to go on when it could have easily been summed up in just a few sentences of thought. I can't decide if that's because I'm so used to modern day snips and bites of information, or if it's cultural (me being American and the book British), or if it's down to the way the character's thoughts flowed. There is suspense, but the real depth of it isn't truly realized until near the end of the book. It is definitely worth the wait for it, though.

But, if you can get through the lengthy inner discussions and descriptions, you'll find a gem of a very classic ghost story. And, hey, it's one I even read to my kids (my daughter is at the age where she's determined to be scared). There was no fear of gore or unseemly violence, no harsh words, and no sexual situations that would make it uncomfortable. A great read, suitable for most ages, and one that I can definitely nod to as a solid, traditional tale.

The Movie: Could I have been any more disappointed? I highly doubt that. After reading the book, I was looking forward to the made for TV movie. It took a bit of finagling, as the video isn't being sold any more and I couldn't find it on Netflix. But my husband finally found it for me (Amazon and E-Bay are amazing sites). When I settled down to watch it, I was prepared for there to be differences. There usually are, as it's next to impossible to truly recreate a story, especially one with lots of inner dialogue, for the screen. But right from the start I felt my heart sink.

They had only kept a few things from the book. The character names, the place names, and a few scenes. Some of the dialogue was saved, as well, thank heavens. But the rest? Not so much.

While I can understand why some things must be changed, the ones that were glaringly different didn't need to be. I kept finding myself wondering, "Why?". The story is a perfectly good one, grounded in classics, scary enough without embellishments. The ending in the book, even, was scarier than the movie's.

I will give the movie some credit, though. What they did leave of the book was well done. The atmosphere was spot on (as far as the house and town), and the ghost and the things surrounding her were spine tingling. The problem is, I suppose, I'd expected more from a BBC production.

Would I tell you to see the movie? No. Not unless you've never read the book. Or maybe after you've read the entire book. Ultimately, you'd have to watch it and consider it almost a story all on it's own. I will warn you, the ending...completely wrong.

All Told: "The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story" gets a thumbs up from my reader side, my classic side, and my mommy side. The movie gets tossed into the "if the kids want to watch a scary movie but I don't have to suffer through watching it with them" shelf.

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