Author: Susan Hill
Page Count: 153 pages
The remoter parts of the English Fens are forlorn, lost and damp even in the height of summer. At Iyot Lock, a large decaying house, two young cousins, Leonora and Edward are parked for the summer with their ageing spinster aunt and her cruel housekeeper. At first the unpleasantness and petty meannesses appear simply spiteful, calculated to destroy Edward’s equanimity. But when spoilt Leonora is not given the birthday present of a specific dolly that she wants, affairs inexorably take a much darker turn with terrifying, life destroying, consequences for everyone.
You may have heard the premise before – spooky story revolving around a China faced doll. It’s been done, many times and there’s a reason ancient, blank-faced, Victorian dolls have been on my “to be avoided” list alongside Clowns, they’re just plain creepy.
I chose this book for a number of reasons, I like Susan Hill’s writing (sometimes) and I just felt in the mood for a creepy, gothic, quick-read story. However I was disappointed. I added ‘sometimes’ as parenthesis here as I’ve found Hill’s stories hit and miss – ‘Strange Meeting’ I loved, ‘The Woman in Black’ was ok, ‘The Small Hand’ was meh.
The plot follows one of our main Characters ‘Edward’ as he thinks back to his childhood spent in an ancient house in Iyot Lock with his aunt and spoilt, bratty cousin, ‘Leonora’. The story leads up to an episode where said spoilt cousin ungratefully despises a doll bought for her by her aunt and throws it against a wall causing damage to its China skull. Strange happenings begin to occur like rustling noises and a baby crying….dun dun duuuun.
I think the idea behind this story was better than the story itself, it never got to that creepy, panicky stage and was an anti-climax all the way through. It was not quite menacing enough to warrant being called a ghost story, I was expecting gothic tendencies and sudden appearances of mentioned creepy doll. But the ‘supernatural’ never went beyond “oh I hear some rustling paper – it must be the wind, it can’t be the doll I’ve hidden away in the cupboard!”
I do like Susan Hill’s settings for her novels. This did have me hearkening back to The Woman in Black. It always seemed to be rainy and grey at Iyot Lock which fit the gloomy story line (and my gloomy emotions once I had finished). The ancient, decaying house was well described and again fit the storyline – however it was almost too predictably set…it was all too put together. I think stories like this are better when set in an older time period. The modernity seems to detract from the overall effect of the story.