Monday, September 15, 2008

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

This is my first official selection for Carl's RIP III challenge. I had originally included Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy in my pool of titles, which I read and reviewed last week. However, after reading it, I decided not to include it in my RIP III challenge because I didn't really like it. I know that shouldn't matter, but I don't want to include any books that I don't like in this challenge. Since I only committed to reading two books and I've got until October 31, I have plenty of time to change my mind if I want to.

Now, on to The Haunting of Hill House. This is the perfect book for this challenge. It's deliciously dark and spooky. It's not blood and guts horror. According to the introduction of the Penguin Classics edition that I read, it is considered a psychological ghost story. I have to admit that I think that designation is spot on. The book deals with the terror that can often come from our own mind. There are four main characters, which include Dr. Montague, "an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of psychic phenomena;" Luke who is in line to inherit Hill House; Theodora, a young woman who doesn't reveal much about her private life; and Eleanor Vance. Eleanor has taken the car she shares with her sister and fled to Hill House without letting anyone know where she's going. Eleanor lives with her sister, sleeping on a cot in the baby's room, following the death of their mother. Eleanor spent over a decade caring for her mother who showed no affection or care for Eleanor whatsoever. In fact, Eleanor feels as though she's never belonged anywhere and has never really been loved by anyone.

Eleanor has a very rich interior life, which the reader has access to throughout the book. On her way to Hill House, she indulges multiple fantasies about what her life could be like. She envisions herself living in an enclosed garden and in a large house with lion statues guarding the front of the house. The reader gets the sense early on that Eleanor is in a fragile emotional state, but she's not crazy.

Everyone expects this to be a fun escape from their everyday lives. However, things soon turn serious when Hill House begins to show its true colors. Jackson does such a good job of building suspense and a sense of foreboding as the novel progresses. As the unexplained continues to happen, Eleanor begins to question herself and the other inhabitants of Hill House. The line between reality and the supernatural is blurred to say the least. The reader senses Eleanor's struggle to figure out what's going on around her. At one point, she wonders why the others can hear what's happening when it's going on inside her head.

I won't say more for fear of ruining this for any of you haven't read it. Let me just say that it's a great book and absolutely perfect for this challenge. I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Jackson, which I really liked, as well. I'd be hard pressed to decide which I liked best.

17 comments:

Nymeth said...

I read We Have Always Lived In the Castle last week and now I can't wait to get my hands on this one - even more so after your review!

rob said...

I read this one last year, and liked it very much. I think it's a particular favourite of Stephen King, as well - he talks about it in his Danse Macabre.

At some point, I should get around to reading something else by Shirley Jackson.

Lisa said...

nymeth, oh I think you'll love it. I really liked them both, but I may like this one a little more. Now, I'm reading The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. That's a good one, too! It's perfect weather for reading this genre here today -- rainy, cool and dreary -- unheard of in North Carolina in September.

rob, I highly recommend We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It's maybe not quite as dark, but its very disturbing as you try to figure out just what's going on.

Dorothy W. said...

I'll have to try some Shirley Jackson at some point -- I think I'd enjoy the atmosphere. Enjoy Henry James!

stefanie said...

Isn't Hill House fantastic? I really liked how you never know for sure what the cause of the disturbances are. And that scene with Eleanor and Theodora in their room with the banging on the door and the cold--delightfully creepy!

Lisa said...

dorothy, atmosphere is the perfect word for this book. Please do give her a try some time. The two books that I've read are very short and, I was sad to see them end.

Lisa said...

stephanie, I agree that the not knowing what's 'real' is a big part of why this novel works so well, and it is definitely 'deliciously creepy.'

GeraniumCat said...

I think I'll have to read this one too, your review makes it sound very good.

Lisa said...

geranium cat, I'll be interested to see what you think about it when you read it. As you can tell, I really enjoyed this one.

Kate said...

I just can't crow enough about this book - it's one of my favorite. I love how it is so very internal and psychological - less about the bumps on the wall and more about Eleanor's deteriorating mind. Great review!

Lisa said...

kate, I couldn't agree more. If you haven't read The Turn of the Screw, you would probably like it, as well. It is very similar in that you're never quite sure what is really happening and what's in the mind of the governess. Of course, the style is different since it is James.

Kate said...

I read Turn of the Screw years ago and remembered enjoying it, then I tried to read it again (last spring?) and didn't quite like it as much. I think I just needed some good fall weather, though - I should try again. Try as I may, though, I just have never found a "spooky story" as good as Hill House.

Lisa said...

kate, I definitely think the time of year and my mood plays a big part in how I react to books.

StuckInABook said...

Liked this, but liked We Have Always Lived In The Castle even more - perhaps because it didn't use paranormal, and was thus more cleverly unsettling, I thought.

Lisa said...

simon, I understand exactly what you mean. The 'normalness' and the fact that she reveals slowly what is going on makes it that much more creepy.

Danielle said...

I just finished reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle and now really must read this. Isn't Jackson an excellent writer? I like a ghost story that can be eerie and sppoky yet not conspicuous about it! Eleanor sounds a bit like Merricat! I only wish I had never seen the movie they made from the book!

Lisa said...

danielle, they're both really good. This one has a little more of the supernatural element to it.