Susan Hill: The Small Hand (2010) A Ghost Story

Returning home from a visit to a client late one summer’s evening, antiquarian bookseller Adam Snow takes a wrong turning and stumbles across the derelict old White House. Compelled by curiosity, he approaches the door, and, standing before the entrance feels the unmistakable sensation of a small hand creeping into his own, ‘as if a child had taken hold of it’. Intrigued by the encounter, he determines to learn more, and discovers that the owner’s grandson had drowned tragically many years before. At first unperturbed by the odd experience, Snow begins to be plagued by haunting dreams, panic attacks, and more frequent visits from the small hand which become increasingly threatening and sinister …

I really bought The Small Hand with the R.I.P challenge in mind when I found it at a local bookstore. And because I love the cover and had wanted to read something  by Susan Hill anyway. I enjoyed it quite a lot. It is beautifully written but surprisingly old-fashioned in tone. It is quite an eerie and mysterious ghost story. What I appreciated is the fact that the mystery is solved in the end.

The Small Hand has quite a lot to offer. Adam Snow being a bookseller every book lover will feel a certain affinity right away. What sounds more enchanting than a job that involves travelling the world and looking for rare books? One of his trips brings Adam to the South of England. On his way back he gets lost and discovers an abandoned house with an overgrown garden. This is not exactly an original idea, especially not in a British novel as the British novel has a great tradition of descriptions of grand old  houses and mysterious gardens (from Great Expectations to The Secret Garden, Tom’s Midnight Garden to The Forgotten Garden and many more). The lack of originality did not disturb me one tiny bit as I love descriptions of old houses and descriptions of gardens that return to a state of wilderness. Susan Hill is very talented in describing nature with great detail. It is in this very garden that Adam feels for the first time the presence of the ghost of a little child.

Ghosts are normally bound to certain places but this one is not. It will haunt Adam all through the story and wherever he goes. Telling more would be a spoiler so I will stop here.

On one of his hunts for rare old books, a First Edition of Shakespeare in this case, Adam travels to a forlorn French monastery. This is another extremely well rendered description. And such an appealing one. I would love to spend a few weeks there myself.

I think this book could be quite scary for some readers especially if they have a history of recent panic attacks as this is the way Adam experiences the presence of the ghost or rather ghosts.

The Small Hand is a wonderfully old-fashioned and very British (a high compliment coming from a fervent Anglophile) Ghost Story creating a pleasant frisson. It is best read at this time of the year, preferably at night in bed.

I have already ordered The Woman in Black, another of Susan Hill’s Ghost Stories. What Susan Hill novels did you read and like?

Here’s another review of The Small Hand by Susan Hated Literature

18 thoughts on “Susan Hill: The Small Hand (2010) A Ghost Story

  1. Your review reminds me of Heart-shaped box by Joe Hill, the ghost also follows the main character everywhere…but I believe the reason is different.

    I haven’t read anything by Susan Hill yet but I love ghost story.

    • I always think that ghost story is included in Horror, but not all Horror is about ghost.

      I like it a lot, He will become the next Stephen King…apart from the fact that he is his son 😉

          • I think I saw it somewhere. I wonder if the difference of a ghost and a horror story is not the difference in the nature of the ghost. In a horror story ghosts are not from dead people but mostly demons or just evil beings. In a traditional ghost story the spirit is from a dead person.

            • In Heart-shaped Box, the ghost is from a dead man, that’ll make the book as ghost story, right?

              Well, in Indonesia ghost story (either from dead man or demon) is considered as horror story…because spirits are pretty scary.
              Maybe different country or culture has different perception on horror.

    • I looked up Heart-shaped Box. That sounds much more like a horror story though. Did you like it then? I like the idea. I still wonder where we have to draw the line between ghost and horror story. I haven’t read much horror apart from Stephen King.

  2. Mmm, another good review of this book. I really must read some Susan Hill. I’m sitting in a library – maybe I’ll see if they have anything by her! 🙂

  3. I’ve read The Woman in Black twice now and like it very much. I also have The Mist in the Mirror on hand, which I had wanted to read for the RIP Challenge but time is quickly running out. I will look for this one as well–it sounds like something I would like!

  4. Pingback: The small hand | Susan Hated Literature

  5. I too read this for RIP, and as soon as I can will grab hold of The Woman in Black 🙂 I loved the stark sparse writing style.

    I did read that book by Joe Hill last year, actually I’ve just looked at my review and it was in 2008, anyways, I really enjoyed the first half or so of the book, when it was creepy. But towards the end it veered more into gore than atmosphere and I didn’t enjoy that quite so much.

    • Thanks a lot for your comment. I am not sure I read your review of The Small Hand, I read one, but couldn’t find it anymore, when I wanted to mention it. The R.I.P. review list got so long. I am reading the Woman in Black right now. It’s wonderful. Thanks for the comment on Joe Hill. I am not into gore. My biggest problem with most of the “urban fantasy”-vampire, shapeshifter and what not genre. Although sometimes it’s ok.

  6. Pingback: Susan Hill: The Woman in Black (1983) « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

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