The Small Hand: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill

Susan Hill’s The Small Hand: A Ghost Story is a novella, quickly and easily read, but it is not a scary ghost story. 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.

It begins well. Adam Snow, a dealer in antiquarian books and manuscripts gets lost on his way home from visiting a client when he comes across a derelict Edwardian house. Wandering around the garden he feels compelled to know more about it, to see more, to find out what had happened and why the house had been abandoned. It was there in the garden that he had a strange experience:

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. It felt cool and its fingers curled themselves trustingly into my palm and rested there, and the small thumb and forefinger tucked my own thumb between them. As a reflex, I bent it over and we stood for a time which was out of time, my own man’s hand and the very small hand held as closely together as the hand of a father and his child. But I am not a father and the small child was invisible. (page 7)

But as I read, despite the pleasure of reading Susan Hill’s descriptive writing, I began to lose interest in the plot. At the end I thought it was more of a sad, mournful tale than a ghost story.

6 thoughts on “The Small Hand: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill”

  1. I’ve got this one too, so will be interested to see if I agree when I’ve read it. Will come back and read your comments properly then. The Woman in Black is one of my favourite ghost stories, and her best I think. Others I’ve read have been okay but not quite as good.

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  2. As I have always found her crime novels a bit disappointing when it comes to plot, I can´t say I am really surprised. I´d say her strong points are language and characters, not plot development.

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  3. This is sitting on the shelf waiting for me, but there are three other books that I HAVE to finish this weekend if I am to get through next week’s discussion groups so it will have to wait I’m afraid.

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  4. What a shame! I love Susan Hill’s writing; have just finished and reviewed The Risk of Darkness, one of the Simon Serrailler mysteries and loved it. I was drawn to her because of The Woman in Black which I also loved. Perhaps you’re right that this one should have been a short story. I’ll probably read it at some point anyway.

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  5. I have been looking for this story ever since hearing it was out. It’s not over here yet in Canada. Like you and your other commentators, I love The Woman in Black by her. I think I’m going to read The Small Hand and compare to your review 🙂 Is it marketed there as a ghost scary story, or as a ghost story? Sometimes I find there is difference – ghost stories don’t have to be scary (once you know what happened), I often find they are mournful. Scary ghost stories are something else, though! I’m curious to compare the two in her hands.

    I love her mysteries very much, too, which I find are evocative in atmosphere and strong characters, as one of your commentators suggested, though only in book 3 did I think the plot a little weak.

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