Saturday, 29 January 2011

The Small Hand - a bit too small?

The Small Hand by Susan Hill (Profile Books 2010). A ghost story from one of the genre’s most prolific. An antiquarian book seller feels the hand of a child holding his whilst lost in an overgrown country garden. The hand comes back to him over the coming weeks as he struggles to understand who it belongs to and what it wants.
I’d never really read a ghost story before (unless you count The Shining, which I’m not sure qualifies as a pure ghost story). This one promised to be a good place to start. A new book from a recognised leader in the field of ghost stories. I admit, I was also suckered by the look of the book as well. It’s a small hardback with an old looking sleeve. I would, indeed, look cool reading this on the train every day.
All good signs then.
But it didn’t live up to them.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was a bad book. It had quite an interesting premise. It was all written in the first person, which is fairly rare nowadays and so gave it a bit of a different feel. It built up nicely to a big ending. And it took you to one or two interesting settings.
But it was a bit...blegh. I never really felt any connection with the main character, and his conversion from sceptic to believer was a bit...well...unbelievable. It’s a ghost story, so I expected to be on the edge of my train seat most of the time. I even contrived to make sure I finished the book alone in my flat with just a lamp on to see if that would help. But it didn’t. I never really felt any tension, I didn’t care a huge amount about the main character, and the times when he was in danger I just felt he was being a bit silly. Hill never really got me believing that he was in real danger, or that the small hand was anything other than a minor inconvenience.
Maybe it’s my fault. I couldn’t be more of a sceptic when it comes to ghosts (if they were real, surely one of them would have been on BBC Breakfast by now). Maybe I just wasn’t in the right state of mind to let the book in.
Having said that, The Shining scared me. That relied on the supernatural, but I genuinely feared for the characters in it, and was constantly willing them to escape. So it is possible. I’m not cold hearted and it is possible to scare me. The Small Hand just didn’t.

The Shining - Better

For all its faults though, it’s readable enough. Susan Hill has written a lot, and she knows her stuff. I never felt I was struggling to get to the end of the book, and (although I was never truly engaged with it) I wouldn’t go as far as to say I was bored. Just slightly disinterested.
And it’s short, so it won’t take up too much of your time.
Redeeming factors that drags its GBR score up to...
I’ll review The Shining one day. No prizes for guessing whether it’ll outscore The Small Hand or not.

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