Saturday, 31 October 2009

The Haunting of Hill House


No human eye can isolate the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house, and yet somehow a maniac juxtaposition, a badly turned angle, some chance meeting of roof and sky, turned Hill House into a place of despair, more frightening because the face of Hill House seemed awake, with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice. Almost any house, caught unexpectedly or at an odd angle, can turn a deeply humorous look on a watching person; even a mischievous little chimney, or a dormer like a dimple, can catch up a beholder with a sense of fellowship; but a house arrogant and hating, never off guard, can only be evil.

Happy Hallowe'en! In preparation for the spookiest day of the year, I read The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Dark and oppressive, this haunted house story is a tense and thrilling study of fear. Dr Montague invites three strangers to join him one summer in the mysterious Hill House for an experiment that would explore potential paranormal and supernatural incidents. What begins lightheartedly soon turns malevolent as the personfiied Hill House begins to manifest itself in the house's inhabitants. The Haunting of Hill House is a deft and effective exploration of fear and how it changes people and guides their actions. More a subtle and disturbing haunting than an out-and-out tale of horror, this was yet another gripping read by Shirley Jackson.

Jackson is a master of suspense and weaves an intricate tale of creepiness. One wonders whether events actually occur or are manifested within the minds of the characters; there is an insidious undertone to the text where the reader does not trust what they are being told. To say any more would be to spoil The Haunting of Hill House, as saying much about any of Shirley Jackson's work is detrimental to their effect on the mind and senses. Suffice to say, this was the perfect reading material in the lead-up to today.

There is a short article online at Jezebel posted yesterday in praise of Jackson and her suitability to read during Hallowe'en.



This completes the R.I.P. IV challenge for me in which I read four books that could be categorised as mysterious, suspenseful, Gothic, thriller or supernatural reads (I apparently avoided Dark Fantasy and Horror). In terms of the fear factor I have ordered them from least to most frightening and, coincidentally, this is the order that I read them in:

1. The Blank Wall by Elizabeth Sanxay Holding
2. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
3. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
4. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackon

Thank you to Carl for hosting another deliciously creepy season.


24 comments:

verity said...

I really do want to read some Shirley Jackson and wish I had got myself some for Halloween - still, at least the whole of the Autumn season is good for reading creepy books. I am also very much looking forward to reading The blank wall :)

Paperback Reader said...

I take it from that comment that you were unable to obtain a copy of The Times yesterday? From one of the comments on Simon's page, it was apparently regional.
I find your optimism refreshing - I could have sworn Autumn was long over and this was now Winter!
Many thanks for the loan of The Blank Wall; I really enjoyed it and hope you do too.

verity said...

I didn't get a chance to look as had to go home to bake cake for my Dad :( The library has a copy which I could reserve.
It is certainly Autumn as long as I am wearing a cagoule and not a winter coat. And certainly until the end of half term. Mind you, I am sitting here doing some Christmas shopping.

Paperback Reader said...

True, it's not quite winter coat weather yet although I am back to displaying my ample collection of hates :). Use the library where you can.

JoAnn said...

Happy Halloween! I'm finishing We Have Always Lived in the Castle as I sip my coffee this morning, and will definitely be reading this one at some point, too.

Chris said...

This one does make you question what is real. Jackson is so good at that.

Paperback Reader said...

Happy Halloween! I look forward to your thoughts on We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Hi Chris, thanks for commenting. Jackson is incredibly good at creating doubt and uncertainty.

Verity, I've just noticed that I typed hates instead of hats! Um...

anothercookiecrumbles said...

I meant to read We Have Always Lived In The Castle for Halloween but that thought just fell by the wayside.

This book sounds brilliant as well.

Paperback Reader said...

anothercookie, my reading plans often go astray, especially when I've been ill. I hope you manage to read it at some point as it is very good and eerily perceptive.

Rachel said...

I really want to read Shirley Jackson! Great review Claire!

I was so annoyed I didn't have time to go to W H Smith's at Charing Cross on Friday to look for We Have Always Lived in the Castle in The Times - I can't believe I missed out on getting a free Shirley Jackson!

I might even brave the library fines to go and get this...it sounds spectacular!

Peter S. said...

Hi, Paperback Reader! I love Shirley Jackson! She's the perfect read for that "dark and stormy night." Have you read We Have Always Lived in the Castle? I read it this year and I enjoyed it!

Paperback Reader said...

Rachel, I'm sorry you missed out on the free Jackson books. I would have read them a few months ago (after I first read "The Lottery") if my library had stocked them :(. Good luck with yours and the fines.

Hi Peter, thanks for commenting! Shirley Jackson is definitely a new favourite author of mine. I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle earlier this month and linked to the review in this post.

Darlene said...

Happy Halloween Claire! Congratulations on completing your challenge, you read some terrific books. I have learned that I'm rubbish at challenges, Sunday kept rolling around and I realized that a short story had gone unread as I had my nose in something else.

Paperback Reader said...

Happy Hallowe'en, Darlene! I am not wonderful at challenges; I cherish my freedom too much but with the Booker and the RIP ones, I have been quite busy over the last couple of months! Of course, one challenge finishes and I immediately sign up for another...

Tracey said...

This one sounds wonderful and I have been looking out for any of Shirley Jackson's books at the library - but alas..

Aaargh - can't believe I missed The Times offer!

Never mind - one for next year.. :)

Paperback Reader said...

Tracey, now that Penguin have reissued her books here, she should hopefully become more readily available to borrow. One for next year indeed ;).

DesLily said...

hard to believe RIP is over! Congrats on finishing the challenge! You read so really good ones!

Paperback Reader said...

Where does the time go, Deslily?! I really enjoyed the books I read for RIP but now I'm already thinking of the Christmas-themed reading I'm going to indulge in ;).

Doigy said...

My copy has just arrived today for the school. I had been wanting a copy of it for ages but only became aware of the reissue thanks to you. I look forward to reading it myself.

Paperback Reader said...

Doigy, I hope you enjoy it and I'm happy to bring it to your attention. Let me know how you find it.

savidgereads said...

Having just read We Have Always Lived in the Castle this is one book that I most definately have to get my hands on, I love how subtly unsettling she is, wonderful.

Paperback Reader said...

Simon, this is very different from WHALITC and I preferred that for its bizarreness but The Haunting of Hill House is still very good. I adore Jackson's subtleties and the power she has over the reader.

Melanie said...

I just read this one as well and agree with your assessment. It was the perfect book with which to finish off the RIP Challenge. I really do want to read more Jackson now, I loved her writing style.

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Melanie, thanks for commenting. It was the perfect finisher! If you haven't yet read We Have Always Lived in the Castle then I highly recommend it; I enjoyed that more although both made an impact and are sure to resonate with me for some time.