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.