H.E. Bulstrode

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The Mist in the Mirror by Susan Hill

An atmospheric and descriptive first-person narrative characterises Susan Hill’s The Mist in the Mirror, a ghost story in novel form that traces the experiences of its protagonist – Sir James Monmouth – as he returns in middle age from a life spent largely in warmer climes overseas. His early childhood, and his parents, have left but the vaguest of impressions upon his memory, and it is his search for his familial history and roots, conjoined with a fascination with the life and reputation of an explorer in whose footsteps he had so often followed – Conrad Vane – that provides the driving force of the story.

Vane is a mysterious presence whose allure proves irresistible for Monmouth, despite the unease that the mention of the former’s name invariably arouses. Monmouth is repeatedly told to desist in his efforts to investigate Vane’s past, but like the moth he cannot resist the flame. The reason for this powerful attraction to the life of a dead stranger eventually reveals itself to the reader, in a climax that removes us from the foggy and rain-drenched streets of early twentieth-century London to the wilds of the Yorkshire moors, and the evocatively named Kittiscar Hall. This is the place in which Sir James discovers a truth more dreadful than he could have imagined.

The Mist in the Mirror is a most enjoyable book that effectively conjures up an authentic feel of period and place; one to be savoured at the Christmas fireside. It is but one of a number of supernatural works set on the Yorkshire moors, such as Upon Barden Moor, The Hidden People, and The Coffin Path, that populate their bleak and atmospheric setting with unseen and malevolent forces. In some respects, I preferred this book to The Woman in Black, although its pace is somewhat more leisurely. If I should venture any criticism, it would be that its ending seemed to be rather abrupt.

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