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A terrifying ghost story by the author of The Woman in BlackOne dark and rainy night Sir James Monmouth returns to London after years spent travelling aloneIntent on uncovering the secrets of his childhood hero the mysterious Conrad Vane he begins to investigate Vane’s life but he finds himself warned off at every turnBefore long he realises he is being followed too A pale thin boy is haunting his every step but every time he tries to confront the boy he disappears And what of the chilling scream and desperate sobbing only he can hear?His quest leads him eventually to the old lady of Kittiscar Hall where he discovers something far terrible at work than he could ever have imagined


10 thoughts on “The Mist in the Mirror

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    “It was as I was a few paces from the door that I began to have the sensation of being watched watched and silently followed I spun round and shone my torch behind me for the windows had ended here and the corridor was pitch dark There was no one I went quietly back a few yards stopped and waited straining my ears through the silence Perhaps the wood settled every now and again perhaps a board creaked Perhaps they did not I waited again and then said in a low voice ‘Who is there?’ There was no reply and impatient with myself and my imaginings I turned back and went again to the library door”Are you intrigued by this extract from the middle of the book? Do you want to read ? Well then read on “I expected it to be locked like the rest but it swung open slowly to my touch so that involuntarily I jumped back The sensation of being watched was stronger and now my nerves were on edge and I cursed myself for a fool not to have remained in my bed where I would surely by now have been peacefully asleep But my curiosity grew for I was eager to examine the library where I planned to be working for the next few days and beginning to be fascinated by the grave venerable beauty of this ancient place”Such carefully controlled mounting tension creates a feeling of an earlier time perhaps the 19th century when in most classic novels of English literature fear was merely a suggestion in the mind And it continues “I stepped inside and stood letting my eyes grow accustomed to the change of light I found myself in a room that stretched far ahead of me into the gloom But there was enough of the soft snow reflected light coming in through the tall windows for me to have a view of a gallery that ran the whole way around rising towards the vaulted and elaborately carved ceiling I felt no fear but rather a sense of awe as if I had entered some church or chapelOak bookcases were lined on either side of the central aisle with desks set in the spaces between and as I looked up I could see book stacks that rose behind the gallery up to which iron spiral staircases led at intervals”Not only the 19th century then but perhaps the academic and religious settings of MR James? But who is our narrator? And why is he so unsettled?The themes of a ghostly presence and a haunted house are commonplaces of atmospheric writing from the 19th century A musty old house an edgy young man as narrator overly subject to nervous anxiety and gradually succumbing to his paranoia as he chases shadows through an old university library Where have we seen this before? Ah yes replace “university library” with “old mansion” and we have “The Woman in Black” from the same author just three years before in 1989 The short novel “The Woman in Black” was phenomenally successful and a dramatisation of it continues to play to rave audiences worldwide A recent film is popular too and since then Susan Hill has established a tradition for herself of writing a ghost story every Christmas much as MR James did And as we continue the writing could come straight from one of his own short stories “Iwent to the spiral staircase nearest to me and began to climb my steps echoing harshly in the stillness of the roomThe gallery was dark high and narrow with only a foot or two of passage between the bookstacks and the wooden rail I switched off my torch The air up here was colder but at the same time oddly dead and close as though the dust of years the dust of books and learning and thought was packed tightly excluding any freshnessThe soft breathing came again from a different place in the darkness just ahead of me and I began to edge forwards and then to stop move and stop but it was always just out of reach I looked down into the great barrel of the room below Every shadow seemed like a crouched huddled figure every corner concealed some dreadful shape There was no one there There was nothing I wanted to run but could not and knew that this was what was intended that I should be terrified by nothing by my own fears by soft breathing by the creak of a board by the very atmosphere which threatened me”The Mist in the Mirror the short novel from 1992 reviewed here and from which these short extracts are taken has the feel of classic ghost stories The author Susan Hill aims to chill rather than horrify to intrigue and mystify rather than scare She is a supreme manipulator lulling us into a false sense of security with cosy and comforting descriptions such as “The lamps were lit and a good fire crackled in the great stone fireplace There was a discreet chink of china the brightness of silver teapot and muffin cover the comforting smell mingled of steaming hot water toast and a little sweet tobacco”evoking a sense of place as well as any author I know before unleashing all the fears lurking inside her protagonist — and by now her readersThe Mist in the Mirror is a pastiche of writers such as Wilkie Collins or even Charles Dickens It employs a common Victorian literary device of a story within a story involving a manuscript which is passed on by Sir James Monmouth to a younger man at his gentlemen’s club The novel begins with a preface to this manuscript before Sir James Monmouth tells his own storyWe learn that Sir James Monmouth spent his childhood abroad and as a young man travelled all over the globe following in the footsteps of an earlier great pioneer Conrad Vane For the last twenty years Sir James Monmouth has become almost obsessed with both his quest and Conrad Vane himself Now he has returned to his family home in England the remote Kittiscar Hall which he cannot remember He aims to research and trace Conrad Vane having discovered that Conrad Vane’s life is inextricably entangled with his ownSir James Monmouth sets off for Kittiscar Hall on a cold and rainy winter night There are definite echoes here of “The Woman in Black” as a young man clutches a mysterious manuscript and travels through the foggy mizzle of the English countryside in winter to an unfamiliar destination Straightaway at every turn something seems to warn him away and he begins to have intense feelings of being watched And as he learns about his hero’s past he discovers that Kittiscar Hall is hiding a terrible secret What started as a simple attempt to write a biography of his boyhood hero the famous adventurer Conrad Vane becomes increasingly strange with a great sense of foreboding Monmouth has many chances to abandon his quest for knowledge but always refuses The compulsion to learn ever urges him onward much as it does the reader whose spine tingles as they learn about Conrad Vane’s dreadful and nefarious secret Gradually Monmouth learns that his life is bound together with that of his hero in a way nobody could ever have imagined A terrible curse has been passed down through the generations for hundreds of years Concerned priests elderly librarians hysterical psychics — even total strangers counsel him with dire warnings “leave be” “be wary” “go back” “It is evil of which I speak Monmouth wickedness things best left concealed undisturbed Whoever is touched by Vane suffers”Coupled with this sense of unease is the strange arrival of a pale and sad ragged boy in dirty old fashioned clothes He is about twelve years old and appears and disappears with regularity But why is it that he appears whenever there is trouble and then seems to vanish without a trace? Who is the old woman behind the curtain? And why is it that only he hears the chilling scream and the desperate sobbing?Susan Hill is a born story teller of considerable talent She can take a trope such as a mysterious malevolent curse mix it with her carefully described turn of the century London plus the evocative North Yorkshire moors imbue it with a feeling of doom and torment — the draughty musty library the sinister and threatening church — and a dash of something else The tale is a masterpiece of suspense as the mystery is slowly revealed Sinister happenings in both the present and the past conspire to show a man’s fate and drive him to his doom Or do they?All is impression and hints What is the mysterious mirror? Does it show the future or or something else? Susan Hill’s superbly crafted work enthralls the reader with its atmosphere and description She is a master of the understated using spare language when that is all that is needed “Rain London The back end of the year”Immediately we are there on the very first page of Sir James Monmouth’s story Not one word is wasted The text continues shifting to India as contrast “There had been only heat and dryness for month after month followed abruptly by monsoon when the sky gathered and then burst like a boil and sheets of rain deluged the earth turning it to mud roaring like a yellow river hot thunderous rain that made the air sweat and steam Rain that beat down upon the world like a mad thing and then ceased leaving only debris in its wake”And we momentarily gain glimpses of India Africa the Antipodes and the Far East — wherever Monmouth had explored during his travels — in this brief tale But for now we are sucked back into London miry gloom “It was early afternoon but already the light was fading and darkness drawing in A chill wind sneaked down alleyways and passages off the river The houses were grimy shiny and black roofed with rain mean and poor and ugly and regularly interspersed with looming sheds The air was filled with the hooting of tugs and a plaintive siren and there was the constant thump of boxes onto the wharves”And the ending the denouement? Surely this must be terrifying and possibly tragic after all this suspense these heightened feelings of paranoia? The ending is in the form of an added postscript after the young man of the gentleman’s club has read Sir James Monmouth’s story through Is there a dramatic revelation? It is unclear and remains a mystery a mere impression Perhaps this ambiguity is in keeping with the entire text and it is unsettling Yet it has to be said that it may feel slightly disappointing If you are the sort of reader who needs a satisfying explanation to end a story — whether supernatural or not — this novel will not be for youBut if you enjoy an exceptionally written piece of prose with all the hallmarks of good supernatural 19th century fiction where the menacing mood is paramount you will very probably enjoy this Prepare to settle down to explore sinister dark alleyways and corridors a haunted library spectres and apparitions a crypt creepy mansions on the Yorkshire moors — not to mention the unexplained “soft breathing” You may find that from time to time you cast a glance over your shoulder just in case Here is the continuation of that extract from the novel “I went to a window and saw that the library ran along the north end of the buildings framing the yard at right angles to the chapelI turned away and began to walk softly between the bookcases looking in awe to left and right at the evidence of so much knowledge so much learning far beyond the level of school age boys It was as I approached the last few bays that I heard what at first I took to be the soft closing of the door at the far end of the room but which went on even and regular like the breathing of someone asleep a sighing that seemed to come out of the air above my head as though the whole great room were somehow a living thing exhaling around me I glanced up at the gallery Someone was there I was certain of it The wood creaked A footfall I was as far from my way of escape as I could have been trapped alone in this empty place with – whom? What?”“But after a time of silence and stillness I summoned up enough strength and steadiness of nerve to walk slowly step by step around the gallery glancing down now and then but seeing nothing until I came to the last staircase and by that descended to the ground again As I returned to the corridor closing the door of the library behind me I caught sight of a light moving about irregularly on the opposite side and as I rounded the corner I glimpsed a dark coated figure walking slowly and holding up a lantern – the porter I supposed on his rounds and felt a wave of relief so great that it all but felled me and took my breath and I was forced to lean against the wall for a few seconds so giddy did I become”