Monday, October 28, 2013

The Man in the Picture: Susan Hill

I read this novella specifically for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VIII challenge. I thought this would be a good time to challenge myself and try a ghost story.

I found this to be a nice story with atmosphere. But it wasn't scary. It is billed as a ghost story but it didn't really have ghosts, or not in the way I define them. And, not being a fan of ghost stories, I am not sure I can give this novella a fair evaluation. I don't know why I don't care for ghost stories; they don't scare me and I don't have a problem with suspending disbelief for other supernatural phenomena (although books with supernatural elements are not favorites either).

For me, the problems were that I did not get involved with the characters and I did not empathize with them and their problems. I read a fair number of reviews of the story, and the reactions were mixed. Some enjoyed it very much. Others, who are usually fans of Susan Hill's ghost stories, found the story disappointing. Some felt the story was good until the weak ending; others felt like the ending made up for the rest. So, readers appear to be divided on the quality of this story.

The copy I read belongs to my husband, who is a fan of ghost stories. He liked the story. He read it long enough ago that he does not remember exactly what he liked, but he would not have held onto the book if he did not like it.



Reviews for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VIII event, hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings, are here.

Next year when I decide to stretch myself and try an area I don't usually read, it will be one of these: Gothic, Horror, or a tale of the supernatural.

16 comments:

  1. I have only a copy of Vampire diaries. But I am yet to read it for I am so scared of ghost stories and movies. I watched ' the conjuring' and it scared the hell out of me. I even wanted to participate in a ghost story writing competition as the imagination would scare me. I badly wanted to read it and hope one day I will.

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    1. Shalet Jimmy, if you are scared by ghost stories, you might enjoy this one because it is not so scary, a good introduction.

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  2. I have never read any of Hill's books though have enjoyed the adaptations for TV and stage of WOMAN IN BLACK - this doesn't sound like th eplace to start either - have you read any of her 'Simon Serrailler' mysteries?

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    1. Sergio, I have read the Simon Serailler mysteries. All of them. I loved the first couple, and had mixed feeling about the later ones. The last one I was not happy with. All of those books have a lot of family issues involved in addition to the investigation, and I like that fine for a few books...

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  3. Tracy - Getting interested in and involved with characters is really important for me too. I have the same reaction to a book that you did to this one when the characters don't 'click' with me. I'll probably give this one a miss...

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    1. Margot, I am glad I tried it but I won't be in a hurry to try another ghost story.

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  4. Well I'm not surprised you didn't like this. I saw it in a bookstore when it first came out, read the plot blurb and rolled my eyes. Reminded me of an old "Night Gallery" episode as well as "The Mezzotint" by M.R. James. She's like a female Stephen King recycling shopworn supernatural fiction tropes and cliches but never shaking them up or giving them an original spin. I think THE WOMAN IN BLACK is one of the most overrated ghost stories in contemporary fiction. I saw it performed several years ago and I still rant about how much I think the play is filled with claptrap and creaky cliches. Hill doesn't do a single thing that's new at all. It didn't scare me or even thrill me. I've never read Hill's other work (apparently she has a series detective these days) and I'm not about to start.

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    1. John, you would know more about the area of supernatural and ghost stories than me. I usually stick to mysteries, without the supernatural. Although I have read a few cross-genre stories lately. I have read Hill's detective series, and I liked the first few, but didn't like them so well later in the series.

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  5. I saw The Woman In Black at the cinema a couple of years ago with the family, entertaining enough and it made me jump in a couple of places. I don't think I will be tracking down this one though.

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    1. Col, I certainly would not recommend it. The Woman in Black is another matter. It sounds too scary for me (both movie and book).

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  6. Hey Tracy,

    I am not a fan of ghost stories either. I like folklore and such but straight up ghost stories no. Also, if a mystery incorporates these elements, it's better that I don't know about it because I will avoid it. My problem is that I can't suspend disbelief for them long enough to enjoy the story. I remember reading a Stephen King novel, my first, where the scary elements were jarring enough for me to recognize that this was a book and the events were totally ridiculous. I think it was Bag of Bones I read, not sure. I can't honestly remember. The story started off well enough but then it was no longer working. In order for any storyline to work, the reader has to believe it and if that fails well we know how that ends.

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    1. Keishon, you hit it on the head. I cannot suspend disbelief in this type of story. So I can understand why some people can like it and others not. It all depends on what the reader is looking for and the frame of mind while reading it.

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  7. Tracy, I have read a few ghost stories over the years and aside from a little suspense, they're rarely scary, nothing like the macabre stuff one reads today. It's a genre I haven't revisited in a long time. Thanks for this review.

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  8. Prashant, good point. What really scares me are stories where someone is being really devious or is psychotic, and puts others in danger or stalks them, that kind of thing. Supernatural things don't scare me but can be entertaining. It may depend on my mood.

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  9. Tracy - I couldn't remember whether I had read this one or not (which isn't a good sign is it?) and when I checked I had. And I had made this note: Ghost story. Competent, and in parts with good atmosphere (though oddly not clear when set) but not scarey or chilling at all. Which is pretty much the same as you said, isn't it? I agree with you about the Simon Serrailllier books too, I have given up on them, after enjoying the first couple.

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    1. Moira, I think she is an author who has a good writing style, and sometimes that is enough for me. In her case, it isn't. It is great that you keep notes. I only started tracking what I read about 12 years ago, and have no notes. Part of the reason for this blog.

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