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3.4 out of 5 stars
3.4 out of 5 stars
Dolly: A Ghost Story (The Susan Hill Collection)
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 31 July 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.
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on 10 October 2017
I'm a sucker for anything with an evil child and creepy doll so I really enjoyed this!
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on 23 June 2017
I liked this one. She always writes a decent ghostie.
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on 25 December 2012
No spoilers, but for me the first half of this book was deliciously creepy. Then, when it came to the crux of the action, I felt like Hill wasn't sure what she wanted to do. I was really disappointed with how randomly it was all wrapped up, and some of the devices used to bring about the conclusion made very little sense, I thought. The first half is a match for Woman in Black, but the book as a whole didn't do it for me.
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on 6 November 2012
This will be short, but so is 'Dolly.' Susan Hill knows how to turn her tricks like a veteran! From the first page she is the mistress of spooky atoms - with the wind howling, drizzle drifting, the windows rattling and the mist descending...brrrr! It's all good stuff. The story is classic too - as personally I have always found dolls sinister. So are damaged people. This is vintage Hill, and a good short read. Just be careful next time you're passing a toy shop, and a china doll catches your eye. It might eat it!
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on 10 August 2015
Susan Hill is a genius.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 16 March 2014
A short story by the excellent author Susan Hill. It tell of cousins Edward and Leonora who spend the summer holidays with their aunt in a creepy mansion when they're both about eight years old. Edward is a nice well behaved boy but Leonora is a vindictive spoiled brat. Much late when their aunt has died they return to the house for the reading of her will. The story raises many questions about actions and effects and would be a good book to discuss at a reading circle.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 3 October 2012
A wonderfully creepy story, which has arrived just in time for Halloween, Susan Hill's latest novella 'Dolly' is set in the damp and desolate landscape of the English Fens. Orphan Edward Caley, a small, anxious and polite young boy is sent to spend part of the summer holidays with his elderly spinster Aunt Kestrel, in her large, decaying home, Iyot House. Arriving shortly after Edward is his cousin, Leonora, a striking red-haired, spoilt and wilful young girl, who is determined to get her own way regardless of the consequences. Thrown together in desolate surroundings, Edward enters into a uneasy alliance with his cousin, but when Leonora's birthday wish for a beautiful Indian doll is not fulfilled, the rage she unleashes is so fierce and shocking, that it has an unsettling effect on poor Edward for years afterwards. Many years later when Leonora and Edward are the only surviving members of their family, they both return to Iyot Lock for the reading of a will, and it is only now that the frightening consequences of Leonora's act of fury really begin to haunt them...

Very atmospheric, with some wonderful descriptions of landscape and setting, this competently crafted story makes for an absorbing, creepy and unsettling read. One to be read and enjoyed on a chilly evening in front of the fire, while the shivers run up and down your spine.

4 Stars.

Note: This is a very slim novel containing 153 pages - so easily readable in one sitting.
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on 11 January 2013
This story doesn't really amount to much and is not really that involving. The characterisation is poor and the double denouements are rather silly - she's done "Oh dear, harm's come to children!" more effectively elsewhere and perhaps because of this, its use here seems rather crass. I liked the descriptions of the Fens but, again, they're better in The Woman in Black and this comparison is inevitable because, blimey fancy that, she takes us to an isolated crumbling graveyard and an isolated house with dodgy electrics.
This isn't the first time that Hill's cobbled something together for Christmas but this one seems particularly undercooked.
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on 8 October 2012
I always enjoy Susan Hill's ghost stories. `Dolly' her latest novella does not in any way disappoint. When it arrived last Friday my intention was to save it to read over the Christmas period, but I had to read it!
The story is very spooky and gripping, a good old fashioned ghost story which I read in about two hours.
The writing is beautifully crafted and taut. It is narrated in the first person by Edward who tells of a childhood encounter with his spoilt and spiteful cousin Leonora. What happens to the two cousins while they stay with their aunt has terrible consequences on both their adult lives. I particularly liked the descriptions of the eerie but beautiful fenland countryside. I could almost feel the wind rattling the house and the storm as the children sleep in their remote rooms up in the attic. This will appeal to anyone who wants a spooky tale for the short winter evenings
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