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.