I read this book a few weeks ago so I can’t count it as one of my books for the R.I.P Challenge. However, I noticed that a lot of people were planning to read a Susan Hill book for RIP, so this seems like a good time to post my thoughts on The Small Hand.
It’s a short book and I would recommend reading it in as few sittings as possible to get the maximum impact from the story. The book is beautifully written, although if you’re expecting something very chilling and scary I think you might be disappointed because I would describe it as an eerie, unsettling read rather than a frightening one.
Our narrator is Adam Snow, an antiquarian book dealer. Driving home to London one day after visiting a client, he takes a wrong turning and decides to ask for directions. Heading for the nearest house, Adam finds himself in an overgrown garden. Seeing that the house itself appears derelict and deserted, he starts to walk back to the car and it’s here that he has the first in a series of supernatural experiences when he feels a child’s small hand gripping his own. As time goes by Adam is visited by the small hand on several more occasions and becomes aware of a ghostly presence that seems determined to lead him into danger. But who does the hand belong to and what does its owner want?
As far as ghost stories go, I didn’t think this one was particularly original. Even though I don’t read a lot of this type of book anymore, I still found it easy to predict what was going to happen. The best thing about this book is the atmosphere Susan Hill creates. The story has a timeless feel and apart from the occasional cultural references that tell us it’s taking place in the present day, it could just as easily have been set a hundred years ago. The descriptions of the various settings, such as the neglected house and garden or the lonely French monastery, are wonderful too. I loved the world Susan Hill created, but I think the plot was too thin to make this a very satisfying read for me. Or it could just be that I read it at the wrong time of year – summer is not the best time to read ghost stories and this is definitely a book to curl up with on a dark night.