Thursday 29 September 2011

The Small Hand

This next book covers not one but *two* challenges. It's my book five for Carl's R.I.P. VI challenge, and covers a book with 'size' in the title for the What's In A Name challenge which is being hosted by Beth Fish Reads. The book is The Small Hand by Susan Hill.

Adam Snow is an antiquarian book dealer, dealing in the high end of the book market. His business takes him all over the world, and indeed the UK, and one evening he's on his way back to London from Sussex, having decided to take the scenic route, when he gets lost. He finds himself on a bit of a dirt track which leads to a large house. The sign says 'Garden closed' and, assuming that he'll be able to get directions at the house, Adam enters the garden. It doesn't take him long to realise that the house has fallen into disrepair and the garden likewise, but he pushes on to explore his surroundings a bit more.

'I stood in the dim green-lit clearing and above my head a silver paring of moon cradled the evening star. The birds had fallen silent. There was not the slightest stirring of the air.

And as I stood I felt a small hand creep into my right one, as if a child had come up beside me in the dimness and taken hold of it...'

And thus begin some rather strange events. Adam finds that the small hand is now a presence in his life. At first comforting, it suddenly because less so. It seems the hand is trying to force him to jump into water. On a trip to a monastry in France to look over a Shakespeare folio, and lost in the mountains, the hand tries to force him to jump over a precipice.

There is a definite mystery here. Or is Adam having a break-down like his brother, Hugo, some years ago? Slowly Adam unravels some strange facts about the house and its previous owners who renovated the garden and made it world-famous. But will he able to get to the heart of the mysterious events before he is literally killed by a ghost?

Well, this one got some mixed reviews on Amazon and, I seem to recall, mixed reviews in the blogasphere too. Personally, I really liked it. But then I'm a real sucker for a beautifully told ghost story that harks back to another time. Because, although this story is set in the present day, it actually feels almost Edwardian. The style of writing, the bookish, academic sort of background, and the way in which the garden and house are depicted, are all reminiscent of ghost stories written at the turn of the last century. And I particularly liked the section set in the French monastry... so peaceful and calming that I actually wanted to go there.

I can't say the ending was much of a surprise. And for those who like their ghost stories to scare them out of their wits this will not fit the bill. It's atmospheric and creepy, and just the sort of excellent writing you would expect from the author of one of my favourite ever ghost yarns, The Woman in Black, and the Simon Serrailler crime series. I confess I am quite a fan of her writing and, for me anyway, this ghost story more than lived up to my expectations. It's physically a beautiful little book which I'll definitely be adding to my permanent collection of supernatural tales.


DesLily said...

hmmm any reviews i've managed to read on this one have all been good. I'm glad you like it too. I am still loosing ground on my reading lately (cause of the email i sent you)..wish I could finish this book so I could at least say I've read ! it's not a bad book and its short chapters and double spaced you'd think i'd fly thru it! lol... oh well soon... i hope hhahaha..

i really need to get the woman in black as I am already looking forward to the movie! argh lol

Nan said...

I do have trouble with supernatural stuff, but am rereading a children's book I think you and I may have talked about before - Tom's Midnight Garden. That's kind of the level I'm at with ghostly happenings. :<)

Jodie Robson said...

It sounds nicely atmospheric, Cath - think I might give it a try. Bookish, academic and a garden sounds like a good combination.

Anonymous said...

Oooo, Cath, this sounds like the perfect sort of read for this time of year. It is on my TBR list. There should just be a single key on the keyboard that prints "TBR list" - I use it so often, it seems. This was such an enticing review. Thanks.

Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

I've read it and whilst I thought it began really well, it's not a scary ghost story - it's more of a sad, mournful tale. And despite the pleasure of reading Susan Hill’s descriptive writing, I lost interest in the plot.

I think it could have worked better if it had been reduced to a short story – I felt even though it’s short that it had a certain amount of extra padding that reduced the tension and atmosphere. It felt rather limp and I was more interested in the main character’s book searches than in his search for the ghostly owner of the small hand that creeps into his.

I enjoy her Simon Serrailler books much more than this one. :)

Alexander said...

Interesting post!! I really like this site, and hope you will write more, thanks for your information.

Cath said...

Pat: Yeah, I did well in June and July but the last two months have been much slower for me reading-wise. Quite obvious why, with all that's going on here. You need to cut yourself some slack as things are difficult for you too. Hope you got my e.mail.

The Woman in Black is well worth getting and perfect for RIP.

Nan: I must get around to reading Tom's Midnight Garden at some stage. It's on my grand-daughter's bookshelf here so there's no excuse. I think you would be fine with this Susan Hill book as it's more of a mystery with a supernatural twist, than a book that's really scary.

GeraniumCat: It's a nice combo in my opinion... with a little added armchair travelling. Just the ticket.

lifeonthecutoff: I agree about the key on the keyboard. Amazon wishlists work in much that way. LOL.

Margaret: I completely agree that this is not a scary ghost story. To me it was a mystery yarn with a ghostly bent. And I also agree about the book searching element being fascinating. Regardless, I clearly liked it more than you did, and also preferred it to SH's last ghost novela, The Man in the Picture. That one didn't impress me hugely: for me The Small Hand was better. I do need to get back to her SS series.

Alexander: Thanks.

My Gallery of Worlds said...

So glad you enjoyed this one.. What a very interesting idea for a story :D

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Cath,

I have never read any Susan Hill books, much to my shame.

There are just so many great books, written by some fantastically talented authors, that I could never hope to get to all the ones on my 'lists'.

Margaret seems to think that this book could have been made into more of a short story for greater impact, but I have just finished my first novella and I can't say that it is a format that I really care for. I like a book to go into some detailed commentary about the characters and their situations, to 'put some flesh on the bare bones', as it were.

'The Woman In Black', is already on my wish list, so this one needs to join it I think.

Enjoy the fantastic weather and have a great weekend.


Kate said...

Lovely review! This sounds right up my alley. I just finished The Woman in Black and had never read any previous Hill novels. I tend to like my "ghost stories" a little less straightfoward than The Woman in Black, though the writing was absolutely lovely. I'll have to see if my library has a copy of The Small Hand.

Happy reading!

Alyce said...

I definitely prefer older style ghost stories to more modern ones, but they still all scare me silly. :)

Cath said...

Kelly: It is an interesting idea... I always love ghost stories that fit in with my interests. :-)

Yvonne: I wonder if you might like Susan Hill's 'Simon Serailler' crime series? I think you might. I know what you mean about so many books and series to be read though. And new ones coming out all the time! Sometimes I feel like a headless chicken, running round trying to keep up with them all...

It's been a real Indian Summer hasn't it? But I've been hearing mutterings about snow in early November. I hope not.

Kate: I think The Woman in Black is one of my all time favourite ghost stories. I love the writing and the creepy atmosphere. I'll check out your blog in a minute to see if you've reviewed it.

Alyse: I don't mind modern ghost stories if they're written like old ones. LOL. But, generally speaking, I prefer Victorian and Edwardian, like you.

Kailana said...

I have wanted to read this book for a while because I really like the cover. I am glad the book itself is good, too!

Cath said...

Kelly: The cover is *so* beautiful I agree. It's overall, physically, a lovely book.