When autumn rolls around my hankering for gothic literature ratchets up. It’s really my gothic sensibilities that make me watch horror films, seeking some kind of transcendence. Some time ago I heard about the movie The Woman in Black, but I’ve never seen it. I learned about the novel by Susan Hill, on which it’s based, and decided to check out the written form. (I almost always like the book better than the movie anyway.) The story is indeed moody, set in, as these stories often are, a remote part of the coast of England. A lonely house cut off by the tide. A hidden past full of secrets. The plot is one of a vengeful ghost, and therefore the whole is somewhat supernatural.
I couldn’t help comparing it to Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney, which is also set on the coast of England, and also features a house cut off by the tides. The storylines are quite different beyond that, but it is often the setting that makes gothic tales so, well, gothic. The Woman in Black builds up the story slowly, intimating that something is wrong near the start, but not really giving too much away until near the end. It isn’t really the conclusion, however, that a gothic reader is after, as much as the feeling. Being immersed in a spooky setting where you’re not sure what’s going on. There’s a kind of release in that.
I’ve often tried to figure out why this type of story appeals to me. It’s certainly something to do with my childhood. We didn’t live in a very gothic place. My hometown was working-class normal, it seemed to me. When we moved into the first apartment I remember, the setting did become gothic to an extent. It was an older building that still had gas jets jutting through the walls from the days before electricity. One of the bedrooms was painted black. There was a huge crack in the linoleum in the hall that had the potential to trip you if you weren’t paying attention. It was there that I first became aware of liking gothic settings. It was the place I discovered Dark Shadows and began to find it strangely homelike. Many of us, even with less-than-ideal childhoods, often look back to them with a kind of happiness that we just can’t seem to attain as adults. Mine included some gothic elements, and reading novels like The Woman in Black takes me back there, if only for a little while.