Friday, September 11, 2009

Read: The Haunting of Hill House

Synopsis: 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.

"No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone."

The Haunting of Hill House was not an easy read for me. And that was mostly because of this constant feeling of déjà vu when I began reading about the guests of Hill House. I knew I hadn't read this book before (or so my read list says). So why did Eleanor's situation seem familiar... and yet not? It was only 1/3 through the book that I realised I had actually seen the 1999 movie adaptation called The Haunting. It was a special effects-filled horror flick that was all about the show and far less of tell, although I understand that the 1963 version is more true to the Shirley Jackson tale. 

"No ghost in all the long histories of ghosts has ever hurt anyone physically. The only damage done is by the victim to himself. One cannot even say that the ghost attacks the mind, because the mind, the conscious, thinking mind, is invulnerable; in all our conscious minds, as we sit here talking, there is not one iota of belief in ghosts."

The Haunting of Hill House was a completely different read from my previous RIP IV book, The Strain. The Strain was all da-dum-da-dum-dum (erm that's the Jaws music), then argh argh! (that's me freaking out a little as darkness fell and the book got more gory and the wind began to blow and the blinds kept making this creak-creak noise...). Shirley Jackson's work is so subtle that you're not quite sure if anything is happening at all, or if it's the imagination of the guests or even if it's all in your head... and that is perhaps the most terrifying kind of horror.

This is my third read for the RIP IV Challenge


Anonymous said...

Your "argh" response sounds a lot like me after too much caffeine, a Ghost Adventures marathon, and my jumpy cats.
Great review!

She said...

"Shirley Jackson's work is so subtle that you're not quite sure if anything is happening at all, or if it's the imagination of the guests or even if it's all in your head... and that is perhaps the most terrifying kind of horror."

You are so right! I finished reading this book about a week ago and cannot even lie and say that it didn't keep me up, frightened of the dark. :)

Unknown said...

I think this is one of the best horror books ever precisely because it's so subtle. This is the kind of book that gives you nightmares long after you're done reading it. & yes, the 1963 movie is closer to the book & better than the 1999 one.

Carl V. Anderson said...

This is a very interesting direction to turn after finishing The Strain! I have read Shirley Jackson in the past, but have yet to read this book, although I certainly feel a very strong desire to do so after reading a few reviews of it from R.I.P readers this morning.

I love the kind of terror you describe with this book. I like that subtle, building sense of suspense and menace. Very well done review!

RealLifeReading said...

Rachel - Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!

She - I try to avoid reading RIP-related books near sundown!

Caitlin - Great! I'll just go add that to my Netflix queue now.

Carl V - Thanks! You should definitely read the book. I wasn't quite sure if this was the book for me at first, but it really draws you in. Erm yeah, my reading is kinda all over the place...