Aren’t there always those moments, just before the blow falls that change things forever?
The latest from Susan Hill appears at an appropriate time of year. I always associate October and the creeping onset of winter with ghost stories, and so welcomed the publication of The Small Hand. This short supernatural tale isn’t quite as strong as The Woman in Black or The Man in the Picture. That’s not to say it’s unsatisfying, and I would recommend this to any follower of Hill or the ghost story genre.
Adam Snow is a dealer in rare books, travelling the world buying and selling although one location has a particular draw for him. This is the archetypal house of sinister tales; abandoned, derelict and with the accompanying overgrown wilderness of a garden. It’s here that he arrives by accident and where he first encounters The Small Hand, an invisible force that grips him with a terrifying compulsion whenever he is near to water. Hill invests her story with some genuinely scary moments. I particularly liked how Snow is drawn towards finding out more about the ghostly presence rather than being frightened of it. The scene where he meets a mysterious stranger during one of his return visits to the old house is brilliantly visualised, as are Snow’s frequent descents into vivid dreams and nightmare.
The Small Hand is set in the present day, although apart from fleeting references to email and the internet, a reader would be forgiven for thinking it was set in the immediate post war period. Snow appears to live in a world devoid of modern technology, one where he can only follow his trail with the aid of newspaper cuttings and old photographs. Perhaps this is due to a familiarity with Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger, which deals with some similar themes. The Small Hand is effectively creepy, but would suit the short story form better than the short novel, sitting comfortably in a large anthology of ghostly winter tales.