by Shirley Jackson
“The house was vile. She shivered and thought, the words coming freely into her mind, Hill House is vile, it is diseased; get away from here at once.”
Reading The Haunting of Hill House is a disconcerting experience of the sort that leaves one feeling mildly dazed after enduring an altered state of consciousness – rather, I imagine, like emerging from an unpleasant psychedelic trip.
Described as a Gothic horror novel, Shirley Jackson’s 1959 supernatural thriller is the story of four paranormal seekers gathered together by Dr. John Montague, an occult scholar seeking evidence of a “haunting” in a house notorious for unearthly goings-on. He rents the supposedly cursed pile for three months to investigate reports of psychic disturbances, inviting along its young heir, Luke, and two women with experience of the paranormal, Theodora and Eleanor. All are strangers when they meet but the group quickly bonds. However, fear is a destructive emotion and the house’s powerful manifestations play havoc with their new-found camaraderie.
Jackson’s writing is cinematic in a Hitchcockian sense, and the book has twice been adapted to film, though not by the Master of Suspense. There is also, if I am reading it correctly, muted suggestions that the flirtatious Theodora is a lesbian, which would have been considered shocking in the late 1950s, so we are left to speculate if the “friend” with whom she normally resides is a woman.
The true horror of Hill House is not so much supernatural visitants as what happens in the minds of its temporary occupants; especially the much put-upon and exceedingly vulnerable Eleanor with her vivid imagination and deep-seated mother issues. The characters are all inclined to manic chatter when under stress, which is unsurprising given the circumstances, but their unrestrained if amusing patter is integral to the escalation of terror.
Jackson’s sinister tale is chillingly accomplished, subtly humorous and deserving of its status as ‘the definitive haunted house story’. Nonetheless, the author’s real genius is in using complex relationships between the inexplicable happenings and the characters’ psyches. The Haunting of Hill House is as much about mental health as horror.
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.”
This is my fifth choice for The Classics Club.
Excellent review, Paula! I started reading this earlier in the morning; it’s my first time with Jackson, and I’m enjoying it so far. Very insightful to point out how Hitchcockian the writing feels.
Many thanks, Michael. Quite unsettling, isn’t it? Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
This has to be one of those perfect Halloween reads.
It was definitely one for Halloween, Alexandra!
I just might have to reread this one if the library has it.
Each time I read a review of a Jackson novel I think I really must read one and yet somehow I’ve never got around to it. You’ve prompted her to add this to my list, Paula. A step forward!
And that should be prompted me…
I empathise, Susan, because it has been much the same for me. This is my first Jackson and it was only a desire to tick this title off my Classics Club list that got me motivated.
I really enjoyed this one. Deliciously creepy.
A chilling read!
Sad that I have yet to read this. the recent miniseries is wonderful.
It took me a long time getting round to reading this one. Perhaps the series will inspire you to read the book.
Sounds downright creepy – and intriguing 🙂
It certainly lived up to its Gothic horror label 👻
I loved this one, for the humour as much as for the creepiness – though there were definitely bits that made me want to hide behind the settee! I loved the old caretaker and her ghoulish warnings… “No one will hear you… in the night… in the dark…” 😀
I was expecting the creepy stuff but the humour was a good surprise! 👻
Posting a post on Longfellows “Haunted houses” tomorrow for Haiku Challenge
Exactly, and that was certainly Shirley Jackson’s main strength as an author, the wanderings of the psyche in and out of mental health!
Very cleverly done, I thought.
I must admit I’m awfully scared of reading any more Jackson – her short story The Lottery nearly finished me off! 😀
Hill House is certainly a chilling read, Karen. I’m not one for horror or creepy books either, but so many people praised this novel I made an exception. I haven’t read The Lottery. Perhaps next October! 😨
I just started watching the Netflix adaptation last night breaking my usual rule of books before watching the adaptation as I didn’t find a copy around here. But I am glad the adaptation I am watching has taken a lot of creative liberties, like all the characters are siblings instead of strangers. I will definitely give this book a go, soon. Great review.
Thank you, Gayathri. Siblings, eh? That would alter the group dynamics!
I don’t go in for ghost narratives so not sure about this one. It’s short so I might be persuaded
I think it’s worth reading, Karen.
Noted. will consider it at some point
I read four of her novels when I was in my early twenties and loved them all, but now that they are all in print once more, I really must go back and reread and then venture forth into the unknown. She is so succinct and that pointed style makes it all the more effective!
This was my first Jackson, so I too hope to read more of her work.
This sounds excellent, and I don’t normally like creepy stories! I really liked We Have Always Lived in the Castle though, so I’d like to read more Jackson, and I saw the 1960s film of this which was great 🙂
I’m not one for horror either, but thought this one excellent. WHALITC is on my TBR shelf, so looking forward to reading that one. I must look out for the film. 😊