Monday, November 01, 2010
The Small Hand: A Ghost Story - Susan Hill
This is a gorgeously spooky little novella that comes in a small hardback volume perfect for slipping into a bag or deep pocket and pulling out for emergency reading.
UK author Susan Hill is the grand dame of ghost stories and this one is short but satisfying. Like so many hauntings it begins with a mysterious house. Dusk is falling when antiquarian bookseller Adam Snow takes a wrong turn while driving home to London and he chances on the ruined building and gardens of the once grand White House. Curious, he begins to explore and, as he’s standing in a clearing in the overgrown garden, has the sensation of a child’s small hand creeping into his own.
Fascinated by the house and disturbed by his experience there he begins to find out more about the woman who once inhabited it and created its famously remarkable gardens. Snow almost misses the feel of the small child’s hand in his. But then he travels to a remote French monastery in search of a Shakespeare First Folio and there in a moment of terror he rediscovers the presence he felt at the White House and learns it is far from benign.
Still, it’s not until Snow uncovers a forgotten part of his own family’s life that he understands why he’s being haunted and by then it may be all too horribly late…
The Small Hand is a beautifully crafted story and Hill, who is the veteran of 50 years of writing and the author of 45 books, conjures up a ghostly atmosphere without it ever feeling overdone or overwrought. She is clever in the way she balances the small details of everyday life with the growing sense of disquiet, and there is a lightness to her writing, a sense of words chosen carefully. The result is often exquisite. Snow hears “the faint hush of the sea as it folded itself over on the shingle” and “a silver paring of moon cradled the evening star”. Yet the poetry never swamps the story.
Since it runs only to 167 pages this is a leisurely one-sitting read. A chilling and beguiling small treasure of a story.
Review by Nicky Pellegrino, books editor at the Herald on Sunday and author of successful fiction titles such as The Italian Wedding and Recipe for Life.
This review was first published in the Herald on Sunday Detours magazine, 31October 2010.