The Haunting of Hill House
31 December 2013 Leave a comment
Author: Shirley Jackson.
Summary: Four seekers have come to the ugly, abandoned old mansion: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of the psychic phenomenon called haunting; Theodora, his lovely and light-hearted assistant; Eleanor, a lonely, homeless girl well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the adventurous future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable noises and self-closing doors, but Hill House is gathering its powers and will soon choose one of them to make its own…
Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5
Review: Let me take a moment to bemoan the synopsis on the back of the book: Theodora is not Dr Montague’s assistant. She is, like Eleanor, invited by Dr Montague because of her connection to “abnormal events”; she is only an assistant in the same capacity as Eleanor. I would have gone with something more like, “Theodore, an independent young woman in touch with everyone’s emotions”, personally.
Regardless of the poorly written synopsis, this book is wonderful. I love it. This is the second time i have read it, and i think this time i saw a lot more of the psychological aspects of the book, rather than the supernatural terror that may or may not occur.
I came to this book backwards: I watched the (1963) film first, after stumbling upon it on television late one night. I loved it, because it bloody terrified me. The one scene, in the bedroom, with the banging… I was hooked. It wasn’t until years later, when a friend actually bought me a copy of the book, that i actually got around to reading it. The book is just as good as the film; the 1963 film is faithful to the book and is one of my (if not the) favourite book to film adaptations. (The 1999 film is a load of shite, please don’t waste your time!)
Where to start? The writing. The first and last chapters set the tone perfectly for drawing you in and easing you out. This story isn’t the story of Hill House, not really. It’s the story of a group of people staying at Hill House for a little over a week, and what happens to them while they are there. Plenty more has happened before they arrive, and plenty more will gone on after their departure; this is just one story of many for Hill House.
The real terror comes, not from spooky things that happen, but from the characters; their thoughts and actions and feelings around and about the things that happen. This book is not (necessarily) a straight up ghost story. There are levels to the reading of the book. You can take and leave haunting aspects as you like; everything could have an explanation, if you looked hard enough for one. I prefer a middle of the road interpretation, choosing to believe there is something nefariously otherworldly about Hill House, but that the characters’ psychology (and psychosis?) also have a significant part to play.
Eleanor is the main character, and she’s a very interesting one. I don’t want to say too much because, out of everyone, it is her character that (for me, at least) sheds doubt on the extent of the haunting of Hill House. She’s an innocent, troubled and entirely contradictory woman who i find infinity fascinating.
I think the fact that there are several ways of reading and interpreting the story, and that fact that it’s written so well, is why i love it so much.
I feel like i have rambled on a lot without actually saying much. Whatever, read the book, it’s good!