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Paula Cappa Reviews
4.0 out of 5 starsPerfect Little Horror Story
Reviewed in the United States on May 18, 2014
"Dolly" totally captivated me and horrific it certainly is. I love how Susan Hill does this kind of quiet horror that leaves you with a stabbing wound. Her prose is so eloquent, the opening haunting and yet subtle. She sets you up for quite a ride with these two young children who spend a summer in Iyot Lock. It's a short book, 153 pages, but don't think it's thin on story or character. As always, Hill's characters are fully alive on the page; you might even hear them breathing. In this story, Hill delivers a heartbreaking experience. I call Dolly an experience because Edward and Leonora will continue to haunt you after you close the book. Looking at a doll's face won't ever be quite the same again.
Reviewed in the United States on November 21, 2013
Two young cousins Leonora and Edward spend one summer holiday with their aging aunt in her old weather beaten house in the countryside. An ungrateful act by the spoilt and bad tempered Leonora has disastrous consequences that comeback to haunt the cousins in adulthood. This novella is tense and atmospheric. Through Susan Hill's writing I detested Leonora and felt so sorry and sympathetic for Edward. I always enjoy her novels, she seems to get the characterisations and edginess just write. You would expect that from someone who has been writing for such a long time.
Reviewed in the United States on December 28, 2013
The Woman in Black is a classic; what a ghost story! I loved The Man in the Painting as well - hints of Poe, really fine story. This fell short. It started off wonderful; eery, remote English setting, strange house, traumatized young boy - all the ingredients of a fine gothic tale. But somehow it takes too long for Hill to introduce the doll, and, from that point on, it becomes an interesting "tale" but not necessarily a ghost story that is really haunting. Still, she is definitely a wonderful writer. She knows how to paint a landscape with words.
5.0 out of 5 starsAtmospheric, Gothic Novella Full of Chills
Reviewed in the United States on August 30, 2014
For all you Gothic lit, "Turn of the Screw," and "Thirteenth Tale" fans, this one is for you. Susan Hill has created another atmospheric, Gothic novella that is full of fun chills. It's usually very hard for me to read books in one sitting, but Hill always lures me in with her creepy details and stylish, English prose. Just like "The Woman in Black," once I opened this, I read through right till the end.
"Dolly" follows Edward, an orphaned boy who goes to stay with his Aunt Kestrel in the fens of the English countryside. Kestrel's home is full of all the Gothic tropes one can expect along with a cranky housekeeper who does not like children for good measure. The story's suspense heightens when Edward's cousin Lenora comes to stay for the summer. The red-haired beauty has an admiration for Indian china dolls but also has a very peculiar dark side.
Reviewed in the United States on February 20, 2013
When they were children, Edward and Leonora spent a summer at Iyot House in the fen country of eastern England. Iyot House was the home of their Aunt Kestrel. Edward's parents died when he was young and Leonora's mother has little time for her daughter. Edward is mild mannered and polite, but not overly happy to be staying in the house. His aunt thought that his cousin Leonora would be company for him, but Leonora is Edward's polar opposite: vain, selfish and prone to fits of raging anger. Yet Edward senses something in her that needs protecting.
Leonora celebrates her birthday and gets the unimaginative gifts we all remember from childhood. What she really wants is a doll. Edward tells his aunt who then goes to London to buy a doll as a belated present. Leonora cannot contain her excitement on her aunt's return but when she opens the gift it is not what she had in mind at all. Her reaction is violent and malicious, shocking those around her.
The mothers of Edward and Leonora were much younger sisters of Aunt Kestrel. They never got on and the animosity would resurface even when they had been apart for long periods. That vein of conflict and misery seems to permeate both strands of the family over ensuing generations.
When Edward is in middle age, Aunt Kestrel dies and he inherits Iyot House, much to the anger of Leonora who was expecting to get it all to herself. Edward and Leonora make an agreement to sell the house and divide the money but they both travel and the arrangement is not carried out. While working in a medieval town in eastern Europe, Edward finds a doll that is precisely like the one Leonora wanted as a child. He buys it and sends it back to Iyot House. Some time later Leonora moves to live in the house with her daughter but when Edward goes to visit he is shocked by the condition of both Leonora and her child.
On a holiday in India, Edward's own daughter suffers an illness and nearly dies and we see the pattern of unhappiness in the extended family is linked to the two dolls - the one from childhood and the one purchased by Edward. Are the dolls the cause of the misery or do they merely reflect a deeper haunting that infects each generation?
Susan Hill is a prolific writer and specialises in ghost stories. The preface is dark and atmospheric, conveying the chill and loneliness of the fens. Her descriptions of the countryside and weather build up a sense of foreboding, and the village near Iyot House has an eeriness that builds anticipation. The portrayal of the eastern European town later in the book evokes the old buildings and dark narrow streets in short but telling prose. The characters are well drawn and the antithesis between the mild-mannered male and the furious female is a bit of a Susan Hill trademark.
But there are flaws in this novel which undid the magic for me. The first is the story's chronology. In Chapter 1 we learn that Edward returns to Iyot House after forty years. Most of the early events take place when Edward is eight, so I assumed he was forty-eight on his return. Yet in Chapter 14 we find out that he visited his Aunt Kestrel into his teenage years, so he is more likely in his mid-fifties when he comes back. The problem is that when Leonora returns at the same time she is only forty-three. If Edward is forty-eight on his return, Leonora was only three years old when the events early in the novel took place, and this is patently not correct. If Edward is in his fifties when he returns, then Leonora would not even have been born when the early events took place.
The second issue relates to suspense. Suspense generally builds well through the novel, which is narrated in the third person. In the penultimate chapter the narration switches to Edward in the first person. This is acceptable, but much of the opening of that chapter is spent telling us that something horrible is about to be revealed. So much is made of this that when the revelation does come it is quite a let-down. The same pattern recurs, though not so heavy-handedly, in the final chapter.
We learn that Leonora is pregnant with her first child at the age of forty-three, perhaps a little less unusual these days but it seemed highly unlikely given that her pregnancy would have happened quite a few years ago. The location of the village also seemed to vary - at times the church was quickly reached from Iyot House and other times it was distant.
There is a sound of rustling paper that links suspense and horror in the story, but it struck me as an odd choice. Deep fog, storms, distant cries and babies sobbing are all present and are all satisfyingly chilling, but for me the rustling paper was more like that annoying person with a crisp packet who sits behind you in the pictures. Maybe it will work for other readers. The use of the two dolls is apt for a ghost story, with that delicious mixture of innocence and menace.
Susan Hill has great skill in creating uneasiness and building suspense, essential elements in a spine-chiller, but I'm afraid the novel's flaws prevented me from enjoying the full impact of the tale.
Reviewed in the United States on September 7, 2013
I really enjoyed this story. As much as The woman in black. I thought the characterisations of the two protagonists excellent. Some genuine skin crawling moments and a haunted landscape make this a must read.
I've given it two stars because I'm a huge fan of Susan Hill - but The Woman in Black it's not! For a start it's much too short, it's hard to get any sort of picture of the characters because they never get more than 'page' deep. Nice little boy, nasty little girl, unremarkable aunt, sour-faced housekeeper. And quite frankly that's pretty much all there is to know about them because they're not around for long enough, to learn anymore. There's very little history about them, just an odd line here and there - the sort of line that makes you expect more as you move on, only it never materialises. I was also very surprised at what I would describe as almost basic, 'new writers' mistakes. Particularly with the second doll ... I mean, he left a box as a present for his cousin, she says she doesn't want it and he chucks it in the back of the car as he leaves. Would he really take upwards of six to eight years before he opens it and looks inside it - I don't think so. People don't behave like that; and I'm surprised as Susan Hill making that sort of error. No, I shall choose more carefully in future, and I wouldn't recommend this to anyone who's never read her before.
5.0 out of 5 starsBeautifully crafted, creepy novella that leaves plenty unsaid
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 31, 2016
Dolly is one of Susan Hill's supernatural novellas. My copy is a nice little hardcover edition; I have matching editions of The Small Hand and Printer's Devil Court, also by Hill, and they're very nicely designed.
Image result for dolly susan hillDolly is the story of two cousins who are invited to spend the summer with their aunt in her isolated ancestral home. Edward and Leonora are the children of Dora and Violet, Aunt Kestrel's much younger, feuding sisters. Dora is now dead, leaving Edward an orphan, and international socialite Violet has been drifting from country to country for years, living in hotels with Leonora in tow, her lifestyle financed mainly by a succession of boyfriends. Part of the story takes place in the present, with Edward and Leonora returning to Iyot House after Aunt Kestrel's death, and the rest is set during their childhood stay there.
Susan Hill excels at building atmosphere and making places feel like characters in their own right. Iyot House, large and rambling with its isolated Fenland location, is every bit as damp and bleak as The Woman In Black's Eel Marsh House. The rain falls even throughout the summer and there's a general sense of decay about the place, with a flat, grey gloominess to the landscape.
Edward, from whose point of the view the story is told, is a polite, timid child and a polite, non-confrontational adult, constantly nervous but also stoical and innately kind. By contrast, Leonora is rude, spiteful, thoughtless and self-centred. Despite this, there are times when you will feel sorry for Leonora, spoilt but unloved by the mother she clearly idolises and resigned to a life of a succession of 'stepfathers'. Are Leonora's tantrums solely down to her upbringing, or is there someone or something at Iyot House that's driving her to worse and worse behaviour? Housekeeper Mrs Mullen seems to think so - does she have a point, or does she simply hate children?
I have some very minor issues with the sequence of events, as I think there is a slight flaw in the logic at one point early on in the story, but Dolly is certainly a very creepy book indeed, and by and large it's beautifully constructed. Although its cover calls it a ghost story, it isn't really a ghost story in a literal sense. It's is a supernatural horror story, but the 'haunting' isn't the traditional sort and to me, Dolly reads like a cross between MR James and one of Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected.
It's short enough to read in one sitting (and I would recommend doing so), yet long enough to build the characters effectively and to lend it some extra nuance that might have been absent in a short story. It also leaves plenty of scope for the reader to decide why certain things might have been happened and who or what might be responsible; it doesn't spoonfeed the reader with clear explanations. This would make a great read for a rainy summer afternoon or a winter evening by the fire - and if the BBC don't adapt it as a ghost story for the Christmas schedules one day, they're really missing a trick.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 4, 2014
Disappointing. I have never read a Susan Hill novel before and tried this on a balance of reviews below. It is easily the most souless book I have read. It was not really creepy just uneasy and disconnected. The style of writing suggests the story is set long ago and I was surprised to discover it was more recent... The characters were formulaic, empty shells that never developed...so disconnected and shallow where they. I thought the doll thing was just an 'extra' based on and to incite a Picture of Dorian Gray concept but really in the end was a waste of time. I read it all because I wondered if the best was yet to come and the ending would justify the means and it wasn't a very long book. Won't bother with her novels again.
2.0 out of 5 starsOnly worth that kernel of truth...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 31, 2015
I like reading Susan Hill and anything supernatural, however, on this occasion, I was disappointed with the story and had to return it.
Basically a boy (Edward) and girl (Leonora) are sent to live with their spinster Aunt Kestrel in the middle of nowhere (similar setting to "The Woman in Black"). The boy is quiet, meek, and achingly polite, while the girl, his diametrical opposite, displays appalling selfishness and greed, thanks to a nomadic and sporadic upbringing, courtesy of her vain, inadequate mother. After the girl fails to receive a birthday present she has craved since early childhood - a specific kind of Indian princess doll - her ungrateful treatment of a carefully chosen alternative (an innocent baby doll with a porcelain face), results in the girl being cut out of the aunt's will, leaving a majority of the assets to the more appreciative and well-behaved boy.
Some have remarked that the story is a tiresome parallel with "Dorian Grey", but it really is not. The doll involved here does not inherit the ageing process of its owner, rather, it foretells (SPOILER ALERT) the agonising demise of a child who is cherished by Leonora, as the baby doll is the only inheritance she receives from the aunt. While the build-up is a comforting and skilled study of two children estranged from adults and stranded far from the affection and regard of their parents, the ending is not nearly enough to truly justify the time I spent reading this story.
It's strange, but, the kernel of truth one brings away from the finish is actually quite worthwhile. I realised what Leonora was missing, and has been missing all her life, and why she hinged all her emotions on an Indian princess doll - this doll was merely a symbol of the love she desperately hoped that her mother would one day reciprocate, to show Leonora that her mother did take notice of her, that her mother did understand her needs and Leonora herself as a person; therefore, Leonora's apparent overreaction to receiving the wrong doll has a tragic source, and it is sadly mistaken as a stubborn denial of her aunt's goodwill.
But, sadly, this kernel of truth does not make up for the story as a whole. Having read "The Woman in Black" beforehand, the resemblance made it feel like the story was not written to stand on its own two feet - it felt like a companion piece or alternative universe extension, which is might as well have bloody been, instead of attempting to be something independent! Also, I found the alleged 'amnesia' of Edward increasingly challenging to fathom. I know 40 years must have passed since his holiday with cousin Leonora, but I don't think remembering a ghostly, inexplicable rustling would be all that difficult, do you? And then the way the pacing slows down to a snail pace in the final chapter, just so Edward can wander around a foreign country and tediously locate the Indian doll... what kind of shopkeeper would not know the affects of owning such a dangerous 'toy', especially if he is just restoring and mending it? Wouldn't the shopkeeper supply a warning or disclaimer of some kind? That kind of machination just to give the story mystery and purpose seems very unbelievable in this day and age!
If you like Susan Hill's writing, enjoy mildly supernatural goings-on smack in the middle of the English nowhere, delight in delicate male protagonists and wilful female deuteragonists, then this book should appeal to you. Unfortunately, if you want something stronger and more chilling, only pick this book to pass the time between other stories you would rather be reading...
3.0 out of 5 starsStarts well but runs out of steam
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 1, 2015
Edward Cayley, a solemn and sensitive orphan, is sent to spend the summer with his Aunt Kestral at her lonely, forbidding home Iyot House, where he first meets his cousin Leonora, a spoiled, wilful young girl with a nasty temper. Strange events occur centred on an unwanted doll of Leonora's, which are never explained and eventually forgotten. Years later the two cousins return to Iyot House to find the abandoned doll is not finished with them yet...
This is another of Susan Hill's ghost stories, published in attractive hardback editions and short enough to finish in an afternoon. As usual Hill creates a wonderfully atmospheric setting; here it's the isolated Iyot House, surrounded by the bleak beauty of the fens, with its dark attics and unnerving noises. This is an old fashioned, subtle ghost story, which evokes a growing sense of unease and dread rather than attempting gruesome shocks. For most of the story it succeeds very well; the cousins' childhood experiences raised the hairs on the back of my neck several times.
Unfortunately, as with several of Susan Hill's other recent ghost stories, the final part of the book is something of a let-down. Hill seems to have a problem knowing how to bring events to a suitable, satisfying conclusion, and as a result the plot begins to take rather unconvincing and unbelievable turns. That may sound an odd thing to say considering the supernatural subject matter, but even a ghost story needs some grounding in reality. There is a sojourn in Prague which felt largely pointless, there are hard-to-swallow coincidences and too much convenient forgetfulness on the part of Edward and Leonora, leading to a rather disappointing climax.
It's a shame that such an atmospheric start isn't followed through, but the book is still entertaining enough - a pleasantly spooky way to pass a couple of hours on a wintry evening. Nevertheless, I finished it with a feeling that it could have been so much more satisfying with a stronger final act.