Thursday, September 8, 2011

Review: The Small Hand by Susan Hill

This is an interesting little ghost story by Susan Hill.  There are some aspects that work well, but overall it didn't fully take off for me.

The novel opens with Adam Snow, who is an antiquarian book dealer, getting lost on his way to an appointment, and discovering an abandoned and derelict English garden.  Curiosity causes Adam to venture into the garden and look around.  While standing there, wondering what must have been, he becomes aware that a small hand, presumably that of a child, has slipped into his own. 

There is good development of tension in the narrative, as Adam is pursued relentlessly by the owner of the small hand, and it is genuinely creepy and suspenseful.  It just doesn't deliver in terms of where the story goes.  The plotting did, at times, seem a bit random and the ending was predictable and unsatisfactory.  It seemed like a bit of a mishmash of classic ghost story ingredients, with none of the ingredients really developed or followed through.

For me, Hill's biggest mistake was making direct references in the novel to Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, a brilliant, surprising and meticulously constructed ghost story, and Miss Havisham from Great Expectations.  There is indeed an old lady, who is obsessed with times gone by in The Small Hand, but she was hardly the exquisitely drawn character of the Dickens classic.  I took a definite note to self, that if ever I was planning on writing something, the last thing I ought to do is remind the reader of the best examples of what I am trying to achieve.  It seemed so unnecessary to me.

I did however find myself turning the pages quickly, and I think that was partly due to Adam's occupation of rare book dealer.  I daresay that book themed stories always hold a bit of extra allure for me. 

So, while I can't wholeheartedly recommend this one, at less than 200 pages, it is worth a look if ghost stories are especially your thing.  I am curious to know if anyone has read other novels by Susan Hill. My understanding is that they are usually ghost themed, and have generally been well received.


  1. I read this recently too and my opinion of it was very much the same as yours - creepy and atmospheric in places but not very original. I haven't read any of Susan Hill's other books yet so I don't know how they compare to this one. The Woman in Black is probably her most popular book so I'm looking forward to trying that one!

  2. I don't really read much eerie fiction. Last year I did read The Turn of the Screw as part of a personal challenge to read more classics, and to my surprise I did enjoy it. Your comment about mentioning classic characters makes perfect sense to me -- why would an author want to invite such comparisons that will most likely make their own characters seem lacking.

  3. I read the first of her Simon Serraulier mysteries (The Various Haunts of Men) and it was excellent. A very surprising ending that shocked me. It wasn't a ghost story at all. I would recommend it. I keep meaning to read the next in the series and getting sidetracked. I believe she also wrote a "sequel" to Rebecca called something like "Mrs. DeWinter."

  4. Shereadsnovels - I have heard of The Woman in Black also and think I would like to read it too.

    TheBookGirl - I didn't even know the term "eerie fiction" it's marvellous, I will use in the future :)

    Jenners - I don't think I could read a Rebecca sequel, that is hallowed ground for me :) But The Various Haunts of Men sounds great, thanks for the tip.

  5. Great honest review.

    Gorgeous cover I might add.

  6. I've recently rediscovered my love for horror/ghost tales, but haven't read any Susan Hill. I think I would like this one, it sounds like my kind of thing.


Comments are very welcome.