My first experience with Shirley Jackson was decades ago in high school. I was horrified by "The Lottery" and so not inclined to explore more of Jackson's work. Fast forward thirty-something years. As a new blogger and frequent participant in Shorty Story Monday, I was scrambling for a story of the week, stumbled upon "The Lottery" in my daughter's lit class anthology, and reread it. Much to my surprise, it was still just as disturbing as I'd found it to be in high school. But this time, I was more impressed with the way the story was able to provoke such feelings.
That reaction, and the discovery of R.I.P., prompted me to pick up We Have Always Lived in the Castle a year or two later. The reading experience would turn out to be one of the most memorable of my life. A raging Halloween thunderstorm left us without power and I actually finished the last several pages of the book by candlelight. It's still difficult to separate my feelings about the novel from the unusual reading experience, but it was all pretty amazing.
So here we are a few years later. The Estella Society is hosting a readalong of The Haunting of Hill House in conjunction with R.I.P. IX , so I borrowed a battered old paperback copy from the local library... although I wish they'd had the gorgeous Penguin Horror hardcover edition instead.
Brief summary (from goodreads):
First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a "haunting"; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.
This type of novel is way outside my comfort zone. I rarely read anything involving supernatural elements, horror, or the like, but decided to challenge myself during R.I.P. this year. However, I didn't really experience the "unnerving terror" as promised in the summary. The book seemed more creepy than scary to me. An insidious feeling of dread and unease crept up on me. I felt slightly off balance throughout my reading - never entirely sure of what was actually happening.
The characters were a mystery to me. What was really going on with Eleanor? And Theo, too, for that matter. The male characters were handled in an entirely different manner. Why was that?
Jackson's descriptions and tight writing style made The Haunting of Hill House a worthwhile read. Beginning with the opening paragraph, there were many passages that made me pause and take note.
I laughed out loud at Dr. Montague's reference to Samuel Richardson and Pamela, and am sure my fellow Clarissa readalongers will also appreciate the quote.
"If any of you has trouble sleeping, I will read aloud to you. I never knew anyone who could not fall asleep with Richardson being read aloud to him."More memorable quotes:
"It was a house without kindness, never meant to be lived in, not a fit place for people or for love or for hope. Exorcism cannot alter the countenance of a house; Hill House would stay as it was until it was destroyed."
"It was an act of moral strength to lift her foot and set it on the bottom step, and she thought that her deep unwillingness to touch Hill House for the first time came directly from the vivid feeling that it was waiting for her, evil, but patient... Hill House came around her in a rush; she was enshadowed, and the sound of her feet on the wood of the veranda was an outrage in the utter silence, as though it had been a very long time since feet stamped across the boards of Hill House.
"She watched them, seeing their apprehensive faces, wondering at the uneasiness which lay so close below the surface in all of them, so that each of them seemed always waiting for a cry for help from one of the others; intelligence and understanding are really no protection at all, she thought."
"Fear," the doctor said, "is the relinquishment of logic, the willing relinquishing of reasonable patterns. We yield to it or we fight it, but we cannot meet it halfway."A final word:
This book practically begs for a reread... and it certainly deserves one. A couple of trusted blogging friends have suggested the audio version. I've already penciled it in for R.I.P. X!