Dolly is the latest addition to my Susan Hill collection, following The Small Hand and The Woman in Black. These three books are in special hard cover editions, small books measuring only 111 x 178 mm and each can be read easily in two or three hours.
I bought the earlier two books direct from the author, autographed. That option is still available for British and European readers but unfortunately due to increased mailing costs Hill no longer sells direct to other parts of the world.
All of the above mentioned books are ghost stories following the Victorian tradition and are more creepy and unsettling than horrific. They rely on building up a feeling of unease rather than sudden shock.
The events in Dolly have their origin during Edward’s childhood when he spends time at an Aunt’s house and is joined by Leonora a spoiled cousin. Leonora’s temperament triggers events and experiences that have a disturbing cost for both of them in the future.
The pivotal section of the book is a part that looks back to Edward’s childhood encounter with Leonora at his Aunt’s house, but a few times I felt the point of view of the child Edward was expressed with concepts and vocabulary that were too mature for an eight year old boy. I suppose it could be explained by the fact that the events were recounted in flashback by the adult Edward – but I’m not convinced by my own argument.
However, as events progressed and returned to Edward’s present day, I was able to overlook that minor quibble and could enjoy the rest of the story.
Unlike other books I’ve read recently that have addressed “issues” and looked at the consequences of human actions – Dolly seems to raise no answerable questions. Its events come across as being inevitable and characters (particularly Edward) seem to be the victim of unavoidable fate, so there’s no suggestion that he could have changed the outcome if only he’d done something differently.
Then again, there may be something beyond that impression of fatalism. Maybe the book shows that individuals aren’t the only ones to reap consequences for their own actions – that whatever we do also has its effect on those around us, whether they “deserve” it or not. And maybe there are other forces at play that don’t fit with a strict materialist view of the “natural” world.