Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson


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.

My thoughts:
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!

My rating:



33 comments:

  1. I always feel equally disturbed and fascinated by Jackson's work. Or maybe just this kind of spooky reading in general. I love reading about the supernatural, but I'm a wimp so I get really freaked out and then can't sleep at night. Haunting of Hill House was really good, though, and it really does beg for a reread. I haven't read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, so I'll have to check that out.

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    1. Janceereads - Any spooky reading is unusual for me, so I'm a little surprised at how much I liked this book... definitely worth a reread. Hope you get a chance to pick up We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It's also short and it's even better than Hill House.

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  2. It is rather like Turn of the Screw and leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions which I rather like doing and always begs for the reread. Love that quote - I would think the reader would be as likely to fall asleep as the listener! :-)

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    1. Cat - I was reminded of Turn of the Screw as I was reading Hill House. I've read that one 2 or 3 times and have came away with a different understanding each time!

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  3. The Haunting of Hill House is always a fun read, but it's not scary to me. The movie was scary.

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    1. Ti - I'm not big on scary movies, but do plan to watch The Haunting this month.

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  4. I love Shirley Jackson. And if you're in the mood for some more devilish reading delights, there's always Angela Carter, also awesome.

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    1. Amy - I've read a few of Angela Carter's stories, but none of her novels. On to the list they go!

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  5. This sounds like a great read-along for this time of year. A house that was never meant to be lived in - sounds a little creepy. I am not familiar with Shirley Jackson. I enjoyed the quotes from this book.

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    1. Pat - This was definitely a perfect fall read! The Lottery is probably a good place to start with Jackson and it's available free online.

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  6. I like you new lake photo! The Fall colors are beautiful.

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    1. Pat - Glad you like the photo, fall is my favorite season. It's what comes next that I dread ;-)

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  7. I completely missed this readalong! I have had this book in my wishlist for a long time, and I once even got the book from the library to read but didn't get to it. I need to make time for it.

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    1. Athira - It's a very short book. Make sure you read it in the fall... very atmospheric!

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  8. I recall reading this and spending way too much time trying to analyze it instead of just trying to enjoy it -- I had issues as well.

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    1. Diane - I think I'll enjoy it more the second time.

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  9. I think you summed up the feelings this book brings out perfectly. I always wince a little when I hear it described as "horror" because in my mind it really isn't. Creepy, eerie, disturbing yes but terrifying? Not really. I really did enjoy the audio version. I reread the book a few weeks after listening and I was surprised by how much more I enjoyed the audio. I'm not sure I've read We Have Always Lived in the Castle but I definitely want to pick it up. What a reading experience you had with that one!

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    1. Katherine - I'm already looking forward to listening next year! Jackson's skilled in evoking those feelings is remarkable, and Eleanor was a great character. I seem to like this book the more I think about it.

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  10. You are totally spot on. It isn't horror-inducing, it is more subtle than that. Which to me takes the real skill. From the very start, I had a knot in my stomach. I also believe that this was probably the benchmark novel that inspired so many other similar ones (The Little Stranger comes to mind) where the protagonist slowly becomes unreliable. How much of all of it is her crazy? Anyway, I'm glad you liked it. And yes, the audio (s) are good. I think I might have told you that the first one I started listening to had technical issues and had to switch to another one, both were good.

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    1. Sandy - I still need to read The Little Stranger, but I am in awe of the way Jackson can manipulate feelings! That really does take skill and I become more impressed with this book the more I think about it. Looking forward to the audio next Halloween!

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  11. I'm waaaaay too much of weeny to read this. But enjoy!

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  12. Your header pic is exactly the image I have in mind when I said about the 'plethora of fiery red' on my Sat. Snapshot post. Hope someday I can actually see such beauty in real life. ;)

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    1. Arti - Autumn is such a beautiful time here. Too bad it is so fleeting... not looking forward to what will follow!

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  13. This was probably the fourth or fifth time I've read The Haunting of Hill House, and I was a little afraid that I had "worn it out." Happily, there were new things I noticed and I still enjoyed the things I already knew about.

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    1. katenread - I had a feeling this one might only get better upon rereading... looking forward to a reread next fall!

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  14. I agree that it was creepy, not overly scary. It wasn't what I was expecting, but it did make me think.

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  15. Diana - I know I'll be reading this one again, especially since it's not exactly scary.

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  16. I've always loved the Lottery, and now I definitely need to read We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I'm glad you enjoyed the book! I read a lot of horror/supernatural but this book really stands out. I feel like I need to read it again to understand it better.

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    1. thebookstop - We Have Always Lived in the Castle is even better than Hil House! Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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  17. Dread and unease definitely sum up the way I felt. I think if I'd experienced "terror" I would have put the book down before I finished. As it was, I definitely had to read with the lights all on!

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    1. Lisa - I would have quit if it came to terror, too. I am such a wimp with this kind of book.

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  18. I'm putting this on the list for next year--too much of a classic not to experience it, though like you, horror is not my genre.

    I loved the Richardson quote--for that alone, this book should be read.

    Jackson really did master creepy, didn't she?

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    1. JaneGS - Jackson sure does gets creepy right. If you haven't read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, I'd read that one first. Hill House is certainly worth it, but one book per year from this genre is enough for me. That quote about Richardson is priceless!

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