I like ghost stories and have been waiting for the new Susan Hill ghost novella, The Small Hand. Hill is the doyenne of British ghost stories and her The Woman In Black rates as one of the classics of the genre (and as digression her Howards End is on the Landing is a fun little book to dip into one person’s reading history).
The Woman in Black worked through the uncertainty and closeness of the text, it built an atmosphere. So why did the The Small Hand disturb me in a different way?
Part of it is the silence. The novella is eerily silent moving through the wintery scenes to the French monastery. There is very little background noise even in the towns. It matches the wintery setting but I felt it made me read the book in a different way and appreciate the amount of noise one normally has. It adds to the historic nature of the novel which comes across as a very 1930s or 40s style book, concerned with the bookishness of the world. It is ever so slightly out of step with the modern world.
The ghost adds to this in its movement between malevolence and innocence. As it tries to exert influence through inducing madness, the truth about the accident is revealed. Perhaps why the ghost is disconcerting is the motion between the childhood innocence (in the Romantic sense) and the idea that children can commit evil (see the Bulger killers). Having moved away from the ideal of childhood innocence, perhaps we are culturally unable to piece together how to deal with children in a meaningful way. Besides children in horror do have a history of being creepy (though nowhere near as creepy as dolls…)
I did enjoy the book and was very happy to receive it as a Christmas present.