Tag Archives: Susan Hill

Friday Faceoff – Always do what you’re afraid to do… #Brainfluffbookblog

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is something SCARY, so I’ve selected The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.

 

This edition was produced by David R. Godine in December 2001. While I’m never a fan of boxes containing the artwork, I think this one gives a sense of the period in which this creepy book is set. I’ve seen this on the stage at it is mesmerising – the haunted look of the man in the picture very accurately reflected the way the marvellous actor played the main character. And please don’t judge this by the dreadful film starring the hapless Daniel Radcliffe…

 

Published in 1998 by Vintage, I really like this stylish offering. The diffuse sun shining through the fog… the woman wandering alone… and the looping font all give a real sense of the book. I also rather like the decorative scrolling around the edge. Does it give a sense of menace? I think so, but maybe I’m biased, given that I know what an issue that fog is to the story…

 

This edition, published by Vintage Classic in October 2007 has called my bluff. I am always moaning about cluttered covers and how much I’d like to see a more minimalist approach. This one, however, has gone too far the other way. The outline of those tangled branches is wonderfully menacing, but would it have killed them to actually give Susan Hill her full name? Or maybe – perish the thought – actually lend a bit of style to the painfully plain title font.

 

Produced by Profile Books in September 2011, this is also a very attractive offering. I like the purple and black colour scheme and the Victorian woman walking alone. And then they go and over-egg it by having an owl flying overhead… I can’t recall if there is a hooting owl – while the sound of that rocking chair is one that I’ll never forget – the problem I have with its addition, along with the colour scheme, is that it now looks like a shapeshifting paranormal fantasy cover…

 

This edition, published by Vintage in October 2011 has so much going for it. I love the fog-shrouded forest and the lovely looping title font. And then they go and completely spoil it by putting a lot of chatter on the cover about the dreadful film! Otherwise this one would have been my outright favourite. As it is, it ties with the second cover. Which is your favourite?

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Review of The Pure in Heart – Book 2 of the Simon Serrailler series by Suan Hill

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Susan Hill has always been a writer with an edge. Best known for her long-running gothic horror play The Woman in Black, now a horribly mangled film, and a series of disturbing books – see my review of I’m the King of the Castle here7505922 – she has now ventured into Crime. Will her character Simon Serrailler convince in this very crowded genre?

It is spring in the quiet English cathedral town of Lafferton when a little boy is snatched as he stands with his satchel at the gate of his home, waiting for his lift to school. Meanwhile a severely handicapped young woman hovers between life and death and an ex-con finds it impossible to go straight…

We start with Serrailler on holiday in Venice, struggling to come to terms with the shocking death of one of his team in a previous adventure. I immediately cared about this difficult, introspective man as we see him during one of his most emotional vulnerable moments, which was a smart move – because Hill doesn’t have her main protagonist emoting all over the place. You won’t be surprised to find he drifts back to work early, where he is suddenly caught up in a distressing case of a disappearing child.

But this isn’t your average crime thriller. While there is no blood or gore, it is most definitely not a cosy murder mystery, either. Hill uses the prism of her police whodunit to examine some gnarly issues in contemporary Britain. One is the yawning gap between the haves and have-nots. When ex-con Andy is released from prison and is forced to move in with his sister and her family on the local housing estate, the emotional and material poverty of his life prospects are starkly portrayed. The other difficult subject Hill tackles in this book is what should happen when someone severely disabled, unable to move, speak or care for herself becomes seriously ill. How hard should the doctors fight for her life? How is the quality of life measured? And who decides?

I’m conscious that I’ve depicted this book as some worthy, hard-hitting treatise on the faultlines in our society, but it is also a page-turner with the overall tone nothing as bleak as Stephen Booth’s Cooper and Fry novels, for instance. Simon is one of triplets with a close bond to his sister Cat, who is happily married with children and he spends a fair amount of time popping round to see her. Hill also has a knack of writing difficult characters with compassion and understanding, so even if you don’t agree with their actions or motives, you do empathise with their problems, which meant I cared all the way through. The overarching story running through this book is the police hunt for poor little David, who goes missing while waiting for a lift outside his gate. Hill fully explores the trauma such a disappearance inflicts on the family and community – and the ending was a shock, at least as far as I was concerned. Has Hill pulled it off? Yes – I think she has.

I’m definitely going to be getting hold of the other books in the series. Like Lesley Thomson and Stephen Booth, Hill has used the genre to explore some of the trickier social problems confronting modern Britain, as well as providing an engrossing story. If you like your crime novels with depth and intelligence, then track down this enjoyable, thought-provoking book.
10/10

Review of ‘I’m the King of the Castle’ by Susan Hill

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This book is parked on the library shelf marked Horror. Having said that, there isn’t a vampire, zombie or sword-waving anything in sight. In fact, there isn’t much in the way of blood and gore or even a decent fight (sorry…). So why is it here? Because the book lodged in my brain like a burr since I read it years ago and having recently reread it, it’s every bit as good as I remember.

I'mthekingoftheCharles Kingshaw and his mother find themselves living in a huge Victorian house, when Mrs Kingshaw is forced to find a job as a housekeeper. However, ten-year-old Edmund Hooper, whose father owns the house, bitterly resents the intrusion and determines to make Charles pay. Which he certainly does… As Edmund’s campaign against Charles escalates, Hill takes us on a dark path towards the shocking climax of the book. There might not be much in the way of supernatural mayhem, but a real sense of dread pervades as Hill carefully crafts a gothic, creepy feel in this tale of anger, longing, loneliness and brutality. The exquisite writing charts the struggles of the four major characters coming to terms with their loveless lives and the toll it takes on all of them. And if it sounds like it isn’t a barrel of laughs – you’d be right. But if you enjoy reading a gripping tale written by a highly accomplished author at the height of her unsettling powers, then this is a must-read book. The opening sequence in the third chapter, when Charles is attacked by a crow while out walking through a cornfield, is a great example of writing an action scene. Hill describes the landscape with cinematic clarity, while ensuring that the reader sees the whole incident through Charles’ point of view, complete with the thoughts, emotions and sensations of a ten-year-old boy. ‘Kingshaw began to run, not caring, now if he trampled the corn, wanting to get away, down into the next field. He thought that the corn might be some kind of crow’s food store, in which he was seen as an invader. Perhaps this was only the first of a whole battalion of crows, that would rise up and swoop at him. Get on to the grass, he thought, get on to the grass, that’ll be safe, it’ll go away. He wondered if it had mistaken him for some hostile animal, lurking down in the corn…Sweat was running down his forehead and into his eyes. He looked up. The crow kept coming. He ran.’ (Susan Hill, 1970, p.31) By the end of this scene, we completely identify with Charles – and also later in the story, come to realise that the crow is also a metaphor for the violence he encounters. For those interested in such things, Susan Hill is also the author of the classic ghost play The Woman in Black, which has been running in the West End since 1989. She also wrote Mrs DeWinter, sequel to the famous book Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. 10/10