Thursday, September 8, 2011
Review: The Small Hand by Susan Hill
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.