Having only seen the film adaptation of the first book I knew that to follow on this book would have to deliver the thrills and chills achieved on screen. The novel starts in the London Blitz looking through the eyes of “Boy” who witnesses the death of his mother at the hands of the German bombers. The narrative is split between the “Boy” who is later identified as Edward, his teacher Eve and Harry, a captain in the RAF; as part of the movement to send children to the countryside Eve is tasked with headmistress Jean of escorting the children to a mansion on Eel Marsh Island, named Eel March house. As soon as they arrive it becomes very clear to Eve that something is not right with the house.
I love to be scared when reading and watching a film simply because, it takes a lot to scare me. The mysterious woman in black is everything you could want from a horror villain. She appears as if from nowhere and lurks in the primordial darkness that people fear. The stench that follows her and lingers throughout the house is described so vividly I could picture the reactions of the characters when she is near. As the novel progresses and the woman’s intentions become clear the novel takes a sinister turn with dead bodies beginning to pile up. The main characters are each hiding their own secrets which the woman feeds on; Harry sees and hears his dead comrades while Eve replays events which are better left in the past.
The novel follows the expected path of horror plot with the appearance of a creepy old man and whispering voices reciting a nursery rhyme and finishes with a fast paced and dramatic conclusion. While it was not enough to scare me the descriptions of the “mould” that surround the house are damn right disturbing as it spreads throughout the house. For me the scariest thing was the puppet (I don’t do well when children become attached to objects), and its deterioration throughout the novel representing the deterioration of its holders mental state. What I also found troubling is that it is never confirmed to be alive/possessed, it is only hinted at. Being the owner of several teddy bears and inanimate objects it did have me looking at them twice before I went to sleep.
What the novel did brilliantly was to show how the war affected everybody and how people dealt with their traumas. Jean seems to be a distant character but as we learn more about her family and backstory we can understand or emphasise with the way she deals with her emotions.
The writing is easy to read and follow which I think adds to horror. Long descriptions that drag on for pages stop the images from having the same sudden, scary effect. Short, sharp sentences are used to great effect here. Like a movie I could picture each scene as it is presented to me and felt myself being drawn into the world. Sure, it could have done with a bit more depth but it’s a horror- ghost story that delivers on what is expected of it. Eve and Harry’s blossoming romance while not needed was a nice addition although Waites could have gone deeper into it the length of the novel restricts it in this aspect.