Adele Geras writes beautifully about Susan Hill's beautifully written book so, instead of writing something which doesn't pass muster here is her review:
Home on the strange
By Adèle Geras from The Guardian, Saturday 12 April 2008
'Susan Hill can turn her hand to everything. She's well known for her novels for adults (I'm the King of the Castle is on many A-level syllabuses), her elegant short stories (The Boy Who Taught the Beekeeper to Read), her atmospheric detective stories featuring Simon Serrailler, her sequel to Rebecca, Mrs de Winter, and above all her ghost stories. The Woman in Black is one of the longest-running plays in London's West End, but the novel from which it is taken is even better. Her most recent book for adults is a short and deliciously spooky novella called The Man in the Picture
She has also written books for children, but the last of these appeared in 1995, so a new full-length fantasy novel is an occasion for much rejoicing. It's the sort of book that's sometimes called "old-fashioned", which means that although it's firmly set in the real world of today, the issues that involve the protagonists are timeless and we are far away from the angst-ridden concerns of modern teenagers.
This doesn't mean that Olly hasn't got problems. He has quite enough to be getting on with. He and his family have moved from London to the country, to a strange house called Gullywith. Olly is not sure how he's going to like it there, and his misgivings are compounded both by the usual things that can sometimes make life unbearable in a new house (inadequate wiring, bits of the building constantly needing attention, nothing working properly, none of your own friends around and the whole of the holidays stretching in front of you) and by creepy goings-on in the house itself. For Olly soon realises that Gullywith is no ordinary place. There are stones that move about. There are strange and worrying happenings of all kinds. Soon enough, Olly meets KK, a brave, resourceful, and slightly mysterious girl. She leads him to the home of Nonny Dreever, which is when the fun properly gets going.
It would be a shame to reveal more, but the story from then on gets more and more exciting. We have Withern Mere, the lake from which rises the castle where the Stone King lives; we have a magic book that appears at Olly's bedside; we have midwinter revels and tortoises with topaz eyes. Such wonders would be worthless, though, without real human characters to guide us through the action, and Olly (and his family), KK and the brilliantly named Mervyn Crust keep us firmly anchored in the actual world so that its coexistence with the fantasy universe is made more believable. The Polish builders who manage to make Gullywith habitable fit well into the same story as Nonny Dreever.
The end of the novel promises more to come. Olly's adventures are not over. The book ends with the beginning of the new term at Fiddleup school, the local comp. KK and Mervyn (who is now a friend rather than a nuisance) are there too, and KK looks completely normal until the very last line of the book, in which Hill plants a delightful hint of the magic that lurks under the surface of things.
Parts of the story are scary, but not too scary. Everything is going to work out well in the end. Parents are being urged to read to their children, and the chapters here are exactly the right length for this. This is a perfect family book because the adult reader will share the pleasure of the listening child.'