The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Penguin Classic, New York, 2006

From my book shelves.

As an adolescent I watched The Haunting on television several times.  It gave me nightmares.

Welcome to Hill House, a place with a reputation for being “unwelcoming”, if not haunted.  Dr Montague, an academic doing research on the paranormal, has invited Eleanor, a young woman who had some experience with poltergeists as a child, his assistant Theodora and Luke, a young man set to inherit the mansion, to spend some time is this unusual house hoping to find scientific evidence of a haunting.  Unfortunately the house doesn’t seem all that welcoming.  The haunting is not so much generated by spirits as it is generated by the house itself.

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 manic 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. From page 34.

The four of them stood, for the first time, in the wide, dark entrance of Hill House.  Around them the house steadied and located them, above them the hills slept watchfully, small eddies of air and sound and movement stirred and waited and whispered, and the center of consciousness was somehow the small space where they stood, four separate people, and looked trustingly at one another.  From page 58.

These four stay in the house and wonder at its strangeness.  Doors close by themselves, rooms seem to move about and there are places that are very, very cold.  It doesn’t take long for them to discover what they are searching for  It is the atmosphere in, and around the house and the often strained dynamic between the characters, that heightens the creepiness as we read.  We learn early on just how psychologically and emotionally  fragile Eleanor is.   It is no surprise that Hill House chooses to seeks her out.

     Eleanor felt, as she had the day before, that the conversation was being skillfully guided away from the thought of fear, so very present in her own mind.  Perhaps she was to be allowed to speak occasionally  for all of them so that , quieting her, they quieted themselves and could leave the subject behind them; perhaps, vehicle for every kind of fear, she contained enough for all.  They are like children, she thought crossly,daring each other to go first, ready to turn and call names at whoever comes last; she pushed her plate away from her and sighed. From pages 98/99.

I had never read this book before, am in awe of Jackson’s writing and find it one of the most chilling, psychologically unnerving novels I’ve read in a long time.  It is Jackson’s subtle sense of menace that makes this a scary read, along with her ability to worm the reader in to her characters’  heads.  Absolutely lovely, in it’s way, and perfect for my final R.I.P. VII read.

     Sipping, not warmed, Eleanor thought, We are in the eye of the storm, there is not much more time.  She watched Luke carefully carry a glass of brandy over to the doctor and hold it out, and then, without comprehending, watched the glass slip through Luke’s fingers to the floor as the door was shaken, violently and silently.  Luke pulled the doctor back, and the door was attacked without a sound, seeming almost to be pulled away from its hinges, almost ready to buckle and go down,leaving them exposed.  Backing away, Luke and the doctor waited, tense and helpless.  From page 201.

Thanks to Carl V. and all the participants of RIP VII. The links to other reviews are here.  R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril is one of my very favorite reading experiences of the year.


Filed under Books, Horror, R.I.P. VII, Thoughts

17 responses to “The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

  1. I remember reading this when I was a young teenager and being very creeped-out by it. I’ve always thought Shirley Jackson should get more attention than she does. It’s a fine book.

  2. I’ve not read the book (yet), but the 1960s film adaptation (The Haunting) is very, very good. I just got a chance to see it again a few weeks ago and definitely recommend it.

  3. “Subtle sense of menace” is exactly it. She does an amazing job of building suspense with these minor things that are just a little off. Like the way the house doesn’t have proper corners, or the weird way the housekeeper acts.

  4. I read this during a previous RIP challenge, and agree wholeheartedly! It is subtle, scary and even once I’d finished it crept up on me in the night….

  5. Isn’t this one creepy! I wanted the 1999 movie version too (with Liam Neeson) years ago and it changes the whole plot!

  6. I don’t like visiting haunted houses, but I sure like reading about them!

    also, you had me at “chilling, psychologically unnerving”. If I’m jumping at every shadow after reading the book, that’s a good thing.

  7. Ti

    This is one instance where the movie was pretty good too. I prefer the book though because it’s more creepy to visualize the stuff yourself.

  8. I’ve only read We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Jackson and found it quite chilling. I’m guessing this is even more creepy so am looking forward to reading it (probably for next year’s RIP!)

  9. I definitely need to read this for next years’s RIP challenge.

  10. Citizen Reader is doing a Book Menage of Shirley Jackson this month! I need to read this since I have seen parts of the movie many times. I’ve been to scared to watch it all the way through in one sitting.

  11. I have been meaning to read this book for a long time!

  12. I’m catching up on my reading the blogs since I was really busy the past few weeks. I am so delighted that you enjoyed this book so much, as it is one of my very favourite horror books. It is creepy, and spooky, and chilling, and it never fails to raise goosebumps on me. I love the movie (1960’s version) also. Altogether unsettling and eerie, just what a haunted house story should be. I’m so glad you agree!

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