The Small Hand
by Susan Hill
After I finally got round to reading I’m the King of the Castle last year I decided I really should more of Hill’s work, especially her ghost stories. I bought this on a whim. I suspect it’s not her best.
This is in many ways a classic ghost story. It’s set in modern times but with an older protagonist and recognisable settings (an empty house, fusty libraries, a remote monastery in France, the botanical garden in Oxford) so it has the atmosphere of those Victorian ghost stories.
“All I could hear were the birds settling down, a thrush singing high up on the branches of a walnut tree and blackbirds pinking as they scurried in the undergrowth. I got out of the car and, as I stood there, the birdsong gradually subsided and then there was an extraordinary hush, a strange quietness into which I felt I had broken as some unwelcome intruder.”
Rare book dealer Adam Snow is on his way home from visiting a client when he gets lost in poorly signposted country lanes and finds himself at the entrance to an old abandoned country house. While standing at the edge of the overgrown garden he feels a small child’s hand in his own, but of course there is no child there. This begins both a small obsession with the house and a series of ghostly episodes that threaten to drive Adam crazy or even kill him.
“As I stood in the gathering stillness and soft spring dusk, something happened. I do not much care whether or not I am believed. That does not matter. I know. That is all…I know because if I close my eyes now I feel it happening again, the memory of it is vivid and it is a physical memory. My body feels it, this is not only something in my mind.”
I found this novel a bit predictable though still a good ride and beautifully written, but it didn’t scare me. At all. Which is a real failing in a ghost story. And I even read this alone in bed late at night.
I did like the spooky settings, particularly the mountain-top monastery with its amazing hidden library and the descriptions of stillness and quiet there. I could imagine a fantastic mystery story set there, but maybe I’m just thinking of The Name of the Rose!
Published 2010 by Picador.
Source: I bought it secondhand.