Category Archives: Horror

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.

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

The Graveyard Book – Week Three

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Illustrated by Dave McKean

HarperCollins, New York, 2008

From my book shelves.  Organized by Carl V, Week 3 of our read-along covers chapters 7 and 8 of Neil Gaiman’s Newbury, Carnegie, Hugo and Locus award-winning novel.   It has been a joy reading along with others and seeing their thoughts.  Please visit Carl’s blog for links to other posts about this deeply felt, wonderfully written book.

In Chapter 8 Silas is drawn away from The Graveyard but refuses to tell Bod where he is going or what he is doing.  Bod’s friend, Scarlett, returns from Glasgow and finds herself in a place that seems awfully familiar.  She is befriended by a nice man, Mr Frost, who takes rubbings of gravestones.   With his encouragement she  eventually discovers Bod’s family history, but this discovery has unintended results.

Bod finally learns about his past, about The Man Jack and his organization, and is faced with a difficult decision.  The choice he makes puts Scarlett in extreme danger and she cannot understand it and cannot forgive him for it.  He looses his friend, and is at a loss understanding why.

In Chapter 9 Bod enters young adulthood and begins to change, finding it harder and harder to see his friends and loved ones.  Eventually he must leave The Graveyard and journey into the wider world.

The Graveyard Book is all about growing up, be it in a normal family or a ghostly one.  We make choices, face the consequences and hopefully grow wiser with each of these steps.  If we are lucky we live in a circle of love, amid friends and family who support us, even when we make bad decisions.

Neil Gaiman states in his acknowledgements that he read Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book over and over as a child and as an adult.  This is a book I love and read-aloud to elementary-aged children.  I can see the resemblance, but Gaiman has created a world of his own, filled with wonderful, caring, sometimes strict beings who surround and support Bod as he grows and finally leaves his home.  Maybe someday we will learn about his adventures in the world of the living.

There is a balance between gentleness and horror in this book.  A balance Neil Gaiman holds brilliantly.

Thanks to Carl V and all the folks who took part in this read-along.

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Filed under Books, Carnegie Award, DarkFantasy, Horror, Hugo Award, Locus Award, Newbury Award, R.I.P. VII, Read-Along, Thoughts, Young Adult

The Graveyard Book – Week 2

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Illustrated by Dave McKean

HarperCollins, New York, 2008

Organized by Carl V, Week 2 of our read-along covers Chapters 4 thru 6 and includes an Interlude.  Please visit Carl’s blog for links to other posts about this magical book.

One of the best things about The Graveyard Book is that it is made up of many stories, stories of Nobody Owen, growing up, protected and loved by ghosts and other beings that pass between worlds.

We learn a bit more about his guardian Silas, and Bod learns a bit more about the place where he lives. He meets the ghost of a lovely young witch and tries to do something kind for her.  Leaving the Graveyard for the first time since his arrival he runs into trouble.  Maybe the world of the living, outside of the Graveyard fence, is not the best place for a live boy with a kind heart.  But on rare occasions ghosts visit there, and sometimes the living dance with the dead.

     They took hands, the living with the dead, and they began to dance.  Bod saw Mother Slaughter dancing with the man in the turban, while the businessman was dancing with Louisa Bartleby.  Mistress Owens smiled at Bod as she took the hand of the old newspaper seller, and Mr. Owens reached out and took the hand of a small girl as if she had been waiting to dance with him her whole life.  Then Bod stopped looking because someone’s hand closed around his, and the dance began.
Liza Hempstock grinned at him.  “This is fine,” she said, as they began to tread the steps of the dance together.
Then she sand, to the tune of the dance,
“Step and turn, and walk and stay,
  Now we dance the Macabray.”  From page 159.

During the interlude we discover that the Man Jack needs to finish what he started.

Bod learns to fade and to haunt.  And craving knowledge of the world of the living, he goes to school.

Gaiman has a way about him.  A way of mixing life and death and giving grace to both.  Bod’s story is lovely and sad and joyful all at the same time, and oh so gentle, even at it’s most horrific.    I don’t know how this author does it.  It is a mystery, eerie and beautiful.

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Filed under Books, Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon, Horror, R.I.P. VII, Read-Along, Thoughts, Young Adult

The Graveyard Book – Week One

 

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Illustrated by Dave McKean

HarperCollins, New York, 2008

From my shelves.  I am reading this book along with others in celebration of R.I.P. VII.   Carl V  suggested that we read The Graveyard Book in three sections, and post our thoughts on consecutive Sundays.  The first section covers Chapters One through Three.

This book has an extremely creepy opening.  The Man Jack goes about his business in a completely ordinary way and the horror builds so quietly from paragraph to paragraph that it is like a dream.  How can a story be frightening and calming at the same time?

A toddler finds his way to a graveyard and is taken in by a community unlike any other I have ever met.  There is so much love here.   I find warmth and comfort among the grave stones, in a place where those feelings are totally unexpected.  The toddler, Nobody Owens, has found a home.

How do the dead take care of the living?  Luckily, there is one who lives in-between and he sees to Bod’s earthly and intellectual needs.  Bod makes a friend, learns his lessons and has adventures.  When his protector, Silas, is forced to take  a journey Bod meets a new teacher.   She is strict in her discipline and who holds a great secret.

It is hard to write about this book without giving much of the story away.  It is layered with horror, mystery, romance and mythology.  I am so glad to be rereading it, going deeper.

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Filed under DarkFantasy, Horror, R.I.P. VII, Read-Along, Thoughts, Young Adult

Those Across The River by Christopher Buehlman

Those Across The River by Christopher Buehlman

Ace Books, New York, 2011

Borrowed from my library. Nominated for the 2012 World Fantasy Award.  This is the first book I’ve read for R.I.P. VII.

I think is I try to summarize this novel I might give something away so I am including a quote from the author’s website:

The year is 1935. Veteran of the Great War and failed academic Frank Nichols ignores a warning not to move into the home he inherits in the small southern town of Whitbrow; a home his wife calls “The Canary House” because of its fresh coat of yellow paint.

But there is another house in the woods beyond the river, an estate that lies in ruins; the once-magnificent Savoyard plantation, where a cruel forebear of Frank’s drove his slaves to murder him. Frank means to find this ruin and write about the horrors that occurred there, but little does he suspect that his presence in town will stir something that should have been left sleeping. Something with a long memory. If the people of Whitbrow have forgotten why they don’t go across the river, they will soon remember.

This is southern gothic with a twist.   Buehlman has written a novel that evokes the years of the Great Depression in a small town in the southern United States, with undercurrents of poverty and racism.  More than that, there is terror.   Hidden away on the other side of the river is memory, and that memory carries horror with it.  This combination of elements creates an interesting analogy, horror and parts of our history as a nation.  I found this a great read for R.I.P.  Give it a try.

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A Banned Book – Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Perigee Books, New York, 2006

I own this one.

For Banned Books Week I decided to read a young adult classic that has been repeatedly challenged and banned in the US and Canada.  I am also including this one in my books for the R.I.P. VI challenge.

This novel was required reading for me in high school.  I read it again in college and, after several decades, have chosen to read it one more time.

This story of a group of boys who survive a plane crash on a small island is probably familiar to many people.  It is, on the surface, a tale of adventure.   On their own, with no adults, the boys can do what they want.  At first there is a sense of order and camaraderie as  Ralph, and his friend Piggy attempt to organize the group.  The boys gather food, plan to build shelters and organize the keeping of a signal fire.  Soon another boy, Jack, gathers a group and takes off to hunt the wild pigs that roam the island.  Jack wants to lead,  invites dissension and eventually something like war.  A tale of adventure turns to a story of horror and madness.

According to Golding,  Lord of The Flies is not simply an adventure story.  When asked he stated, “The theme is an attempt to trace the defect of society back to the defects of human nature.  The moral is that society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system however apparently logical or respectable.”*

I found it to be a narrative on personality, the place of individuals in human society and on group mind, mob mentality.  Of course these are children, would adults behave the same way?

Lord of the Flies wonderfully written, filled with beautiful evocative scenes and nightmarish horror. I read it deeper this time.  It is one of those “required” reading books that I found best read as an adult.

The first rhythm that they became used to was the slow swing from dawn to dusk.  They accepted the pleasures of the morning, the bright sun, the whelming sea and the sweet air, as a time when play was good and life so full that hope was not necessary and therefore forgotten.  Toward noon, as the floods of light fell more nearly to the perpendicular, the stark colors of the morning were smoothed to pearl and opalescence; and the heat – as though the impending sun’s height gave it momentum – became a blow that they ducked, running to the shade and lying there, prehaps even sleeping.  From page 58.

Toward midnight the rain ceased and the clouds drifted away, so that the sky was scattered once more with the incredible lamps of stars. Then the breeze died too and there was no noise save the drip and trickle of water that ran out of clefts and spilled down, leaf by leaf, to the brown earth of the island.  The air was cool, moist and still.  The beast lay huddled on the pale beach, and the stains spread, inch by inch.  From page 153.

*This quote is from Notes on Lord of the Flies by E.L. Epstein from my copy of the book.

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Filed under BannedBooksWeek, Classic, Horror, RIP VI Challenge, Young Adult

The Sandman: Volume One by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

D.C. Comics, New York, 1995

Borrowed from my library.  I have the first 30 issues of this series tucked away in my basement.

I decided I had to review something in graphic format for R.I.P. VI.   What better than The Sandman?  I first discovered Neil Gaiman’s work when someone gave me a copy of Black Orchid.  I was hooked.

Gaiman started The Sandman project as a monthly comic in 1989.  The original idea of the Sandman character coming from a 1976-1978 DC series,  Gaiman made it his own.  The Vertigo imprint as released the series in trade paperbacks that group individual comics into complete novels.

With the help of many artist and inkers, The Sandman series grew from an awkward beginning into a complex classic tale of horror, myth and magic.   Preludes and Nocturnes introduces the Dream King, Morpheus,  held captive for nearly a century.  During his icarseration many humans have suffered horrible continuing nightmares. Finally free and seeking revenge along with his stolen magical tools, Dream finds himself weakened, almost dead.   To regain his power he must visit a ghastly hell filled with demons and flesh-eating monsters, a combination of Dante’s Inferno and The Garden of Earthly Delights.  There are several scenes in Arkham Asylum, a madhouse orginally appearing in Batman comics.   I imagine Arkham  is  based on Bethlam Royal Hospital.

My love of The Sandman is based on the mix of horror, magic, and ancient stories to tell tales of very human dilemmas.   Dream and his siblings, including Death and Delirium, are wonderful characters.  Neil Gaiman and all of the artist and others involved in this series have created a classic.  The Sandman is  perfect for reading on dark, stormy nights.

R.I.P. VI is organized by Carl V. of Stainless Steel Droppings.  Visit the review site is here.  I made full use of Wikipedia for some of the background on this series.

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Filed under Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Horror, Review, RIP VI Challenge