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.

Teaser Tuesday – The Beacon by Susan Hill

I’ve just finished reading The Beacon by Susan Hill. It’s a short book that can be read in one sitting and it’s beautifully easy to read, written in a straight forward style, moving between the past and the present. It’s compelling, drawing a picture of a family, four children and their parents living in the Beacon, an old North Country farmhouse. It’s also full of tension, of unspoken feelings and emotions as each child, Colin, May, Frank and Berenice grow up and leave home. Except that May came back after a year at university in London, unable to cope with ‘the terrors’ that began to assail her.  As the years pass, May is left at home caring for her widowed mother, after she suffered a stroke.

I have two teasers today. The first is a description of one of May’s terrors:

When she lay down again she saw strange shapes before her eyes, trees with branches that curled upwards and inwards and turned to ash and blood-covered beaches dotted with mounds of sand-coloured snakes which stirred and coiled and uncoiled. Her own heart was beating extremely slowly and as it beat she felt it enlarging, swelling and filling out like a balloon inside her chest and stomach and finally growing up into her brain. (page 53)

And the second is about Frank. Frank is the mysterious one, the loner; the others felt they didn’t know him and said that no one knew what went on inside his head – it was one of life’s mysteries. There are hints throughout that Frank is different and it is only in the latter part of the book that it becomes clear why none of his siblings have any contact with him and don’t want him to know of his mother’s illness and death.

He did little speaking but a great deal of staring out of large green-grey, slightly bulbous eyes. He followed people too, his father and the men about the farm, his mother in the house, the other children at school almost anywhere. Turn round and Frank would be there, silent, watching, following. (page 32)

It’s a short, powerful book about truth and memory, about the ordinary everyday outer lives we  live and the inner turmoil and tensions within us. It’s also about what we make of our lives, how we express ourselves and about how other people see us. It’s amazing.

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly event hosted by MizB where you share ‘teasers’. I’ve adapted it a bit in this post, to include more information about the book and longer teasers.