Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Oh, Shirley Jackson. You are the best. I think this is even better than We Have Always Lived in the Castle, although it's a bit harder to do a creepy monotone voice with this title. I feel like everyone and their mother has read this book, but it does live up to the hype.

A professor of the supernatural invites three participants to stay in a house rumored to be haunted and observe what happens. (And by the way, WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS? Seriously, has that situation ever turned out well?) Nora is a shy woman whose invalid mother has just died, Theodora is an artsy bohemian type, and Luke is a playboy and the heir to Hill House. Complicated Relationships ensue.

The house is the real star of the show, though. It is indescribably, inescapably wrong. The angles are just slightly off, the doors shut by themselves, and the housekeeper keeps repeating a few phrases like a broken robot. The creepy things are suitably creepy, although not very dramatic. For instance, there is a scene where Nora is holding a hand in her dark, but nobody's there. It's an overdone story but Jackson makes it tense.

The main conflict comes from the psychological effects of Hill House. It's never clear if the house is haunted by actual ghosts, but I actually liked it that way. Explanations would have ruined the ambiguity. And as the book goes on, it becomes unclear how much of the problems with the house are real and how much of it is in the head of the lonely, increasingly unhinged Nora.

The surprising thing about this book is that it's funny. In between the weird stuff, the characters are joking around and having picnics and getting drunk and it's all really charming. But even with all the bonhomie, there is still something off and everyone know it.

Isn't that a cool cover? My cover was not nearly that creepy. Also, do not make the mistake of reading this all alone in a dark house like I did.

5 stars

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  1. Shirley Jackson definitely deserves all the love she gets. And that's a great cover indeed!

  2. "I feel like everyone and their mother has read this book"
    I haven't. Not yet, anyway, although it is one of those that has been on my TBR list for a long time

  3. Fence: Well, I recommend it!
    And yes, even though Shirley Collins has been making the book blogging rounds a lot recently, it's easy to forget she's not always read that often outside this circle. I was talking to a fellow reader/English major the other day who had never even heard of her! (Although it turned out that she had read "The Lottery" in high school.)