The Small Hand by Susan Hill is a long short story written as a short novel. It’s a ghost story. Our narrator is a rare book collector and dealer, who is returning home to London after having visited an elite client near the coast. He loses his way and in the dark, stumbles upon an old house called The White House. There is a little sign next to is that says, “Garden Closed.” The narrator walks towards the gate, hoping to get directions from the owners, but through the undergrowth, he realizes that the house is deserted and quite possibly, derelict. What had once been, it seems, a grand garden is now just wild brambles and bushes. But something keeps the narrator there, wanting to find out more about the place, and as he waits in the moonlight, something strange happens. A small hand, a child’s, slips into his and holds him. It is comforting; only, invisible. And though he leaves then, our ever-so-curious narrator is drawn to the The White House, digging into its past and the fate of its owners, as the invisible force haunts his mind.
The writing meanders along and keeps going off at tangents: of course, if you enjoy history, travel and the world of libraries and rare books as much as I do, you won’t mind them. It’s an A. S. Byatt meets Sarah Waters story with vivid imagery and an unmistakably gothic setting. The story moves at a slow pace and the end is quite abrupt. It is not a very well plotted book, in that nothing much really happens.
The Small Hand is not a ghost story, really, even if the cover claims it is. It doesn’t star pale-slimy-skinned-creatures. This is a psychological haunting, which may seem bland to some readers. But, I don’t see why. For me, a terrible inexplicable fear, a frightening urge to end your own life, insanity and voices in your head, when written so well, are almost as scary as rotting bodies in bathtubs and freaky apparitions. In fact, they are a lot more tangible; while I could simply dismiss a monster as ‘fiction’, while reading The Small Hand, I was able to put myself in the narrator’s place and it was creepy.
While on the whole, this story was little more than okay, it had its moments. If not anything else, the beautiful artsy narration makes me want to read the other ghost stories by Susan Hill (The Woman in Black, The Mist in the Mirror, The Man in the Picture and Dolly.)
I read this for the R.I.P. Challenge.