Susan Hill (Profile Books) 2014, 106pp, RRP $24.99
Hill’s ghost stories are always overshadowed by her greatest spooky success: the 1983 novel The Woman In Black, which inspired an amazingly popular play (the second longest-running in the West End), a famed 1989 TV movie and the 2012 bigscreen version with Daniel Radcliffe (which has now spawned a sequel, The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death, the title of which suggests that a whole dreary series might be squeezed out of the thing). And, like her post-Woman efforts The Mist In The Mirror, The Small Hand and The Man In The Picture, this feels like she’s trying to imbue it with the same uncanny power – and not quite pulling it off.
Opening with legal correspondence (much like Dracula), this is supposedly drawn from a hand-sewn volume that begins with the mysterious title ‘The Wrong Life’ and was sent to the stepson of the late Dr Hugh Meredith. The good doctor was psychologically scarred forever by the activities of several colleagues when he was a student and they conducted an experiment that owes something to the classic horror pic The Asphyx (1972), and Part 1 explores the build-up to the event, Part 2 tackles the there-are-some-things-we-are-not-meant-to-know business itself and Part 3 details the aftermath, and how Meredith thought that time would heal all wounds (even supernatural ones) or at least enable him to forget (spoiler: it doesn’t).
Even at 106 pages, this feels overwrought and overwritten at times, and it takes rather too long for the actual experiment itself to take place, but it’s more than worth hanging on for the third part, as the older Meredith returns to the post-London-Blitz area of the title – and regrets it.
This title is available through Allen & Unwin. Click here to purchase your copy.