The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson

At last I have finished a novel by Shirley Jackson!  I liked the short stories I read of hers in eighth grade (“The Lottery”, predictably, and “The Possibility of Evil”), but ignored her novels for years, and then I tried to read We Have Always Lived in the Castle when I got it out of the library at my university in Colchester, and hated it.  I got about ten pages in and couldn’t imagine how it would be possible to go another page.

I have to try it again, because I loved The Haunting of Hill House.  I reluctantly bought it for 50 cents at the book fair in March, and on a whim decided to bring it with me on this trip.  Absolutely loved it.  It’s all about a Doctor Montague who decides to rent out a supposedly haunted house, hire some assistants who have had experiences with psychic phenomena, and spend some time there recording the paranormal experiences that occur.  By reading through old accounts of inexplicable things that have happened, he finds Theodora, a rather dashing cheerful clever woman, and Eleanor, an early-thirties spinster who has spent the better years of her life caring for her sick, demanding mother.  They, along with the house’s current owner Luke, come to the house to join Dr. Montague.

Eleanor is the third-person narrator of the story.  It is clear from the first that she has been kept down and treated like a child by her family, but it seems that she will be able to break free from this.  She takes her first steps towards independence when she takes her sister’s car and goes to Hill House on her own; she makes friends with Theodora and Luke and Dr. Montague, easily, straight away.  Things could be looking up for our Eleanor.

Except, of course, they aren’t.  As the book goes on, Eleanor becomes extremely susceptible to the house’s particular brand of evil, which – to be fair – is targeting her from early on.  The reader comes to trust Eleanor’s perceptions of what is happening less and less – is Theodora actually acting from the motives Eleanor ascribes to her?  Is Luke interested in Eleanor, or is he not?  Eleanor seems very sure at times, but the reader often is not.

The Haunting of Hill House is all spooky and subtle.  Very Shirley Jackson, from what I can remember of her short stories.  I am a sucker for a story about a haunted house, and this is a particularly good one.  Thanks to Nymeth for the nudge to bump this up on my reading list!

Other views:

Nymeth at Things Mean a Lot
A Striped Armchair

So Many Books

Booknotes by Lisa

Books for Breakfast, Drinks for Dinner
Sadie-Jean
Stuck in a Book
Bibliolatry
Melody’s Reading Corner

Let me know if I missed yours – so many of these say that We Have Always Lived in the Castle is better, so I really must remember to try it again when I get home.

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8 thoughts on “The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson

  1. Everyone keeps saying that! That does it, first thing when I get home from London I am checking out We Have Always Lived in the Castle and reading it posthaste. It has just been bumped up to Number One Top Reading Priority.

  2. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it. And also surprised that you hated the beginning of We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I hope it works for you when you try it next!

  3. Nymeth – I was very hard to please at that juncture, and I didn’t really know what to expect out of We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I think I was expecting something rather light and cheery, and I found it confusing.

    Diane – I think in fall haunted house stories are more convincing (I live in a very hot place). It is hard to feel appropriately spooked when outside it is all muggy and hot. Cold windy nights are the appropriate times for haunted books.

  4. Pingback: The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters « Jenny’s Books

  5. Pingback: Wrapping up 2009 « Jenny's Books

  6. Pingback: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson « A Good Stopping Point

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