Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Devouring Books: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

"Don't do it, Eleanor told the little girl; insist on your cup of stars; once they have you trapped into being like everyone else you will never see your cup of stars again."

I read The Haunting of Hill House right in the middle of the Readathon, which is never a good time slot because I tend to remember the book I started with, and the book I finished with, and the rest are kind of blurred around the edges. I enjoyed (and was scared by) The Haunting of Hill House SO much that I'm hoping I'm going to retain it for a while, but in case I don't, I'm reviewing it first! It's the sensible way to go, I think.

Before I read it, I didn't really have high hopes which is weird because 1) I thought The Lottery, the only other thing I've read by Jackson, was excellent; and 2) Stephen King raved about it in Danse Macabre, and, you know, I trust his horror-knowledge! But still for some reason I thought I wouldn't like it, maybe because I was expecting it just to be a fairly straightforward ghost story, which would have been fine, but wouldn't exactly blow me away. I should know by now never to listen to myself, because it was AMAZING.

The premise of the story is that there's this house that this doctor believes is haunted, and in order to test out this theory, he wants to get some psychic-y people together to see if they can 'feel' anything about the house. So far, so typical; only one of the people he recruits, Eleanor, is something of an oddity. She's been kind of cut off from society basically her whole adult life, looking after her sick mother, and as a result:
"Without ever wanting to become reserved and shy, she has spent so long alone, with no one to love, that it was difficult for her to talk, even casually, to another person without self-consciousness and an awkward inability to find words."
 So, because of her sad sheltered life, Eleanor sees this whole thing as an adventure rather than as a terrifying terrifying nightmare, and that's really where all her troubles begin.

The characters in this are awesome. Eleanor plays perfectly off Theodora, a very talkative friendly girl who's maybe a bit in love with Eleanor, and Eleanor's maybe a bit in love with her but then there's also this young attractive male (Luke) who Eleanor maybe fancies too, because she doesn't really know enough about herself to have made a decision about this kind of thing. And then their leader is Dr Montague, who endeared himself pretty early on to me by saying that he'd brought Pamela by Samuel Richardson to the house to send himself to sleep. Cause, you know, I HATE that book. But anyway, it's basically these four people and how they interact, and how they react to certain happenings that is really at the core of the book, and so it's really important for them to be as awesome as they are.

I don't really know how much more I can say before we step over into spoiler territory, but here's what I will say- this book is scary, and it's complex, and you'd think that maybe because it's complex that'd reduce some of the scariness because you have to think about it, but it really doesn't! In fact, it's kind of the opposite- because it's complex, you can't be sure what to be scared of, so in the end, you're kind of scared of everything. Well, two things. Maybe. And then, interspersed with this there are instances of humour (there's the servant who says the same things all the time and seems like a robot, and the Doctor's wife turns up at one point and, while she reckons she can talk to the dead, doesn't seem to be able to talk to the living at all) which truly are funny, and also help to make you realise how scared you were in contrast.

I'm not sure that I've really captured how excellent this book really was, but if I say that it's my favourite of all my RIP reads so far (of which there have been 7 or 8) would that help? What about... This is probably my favourite horror-y novel apart from some Stephen King ones? Yeah, let's say that.

17 comments:

  1. I was saving this one for Halloween - which I guess is right around the corner! I'm nervous - I don't do well with scary, but I love Shirley Jackson.

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    1. It so is! You've got a couple of weeks though! I would say... This is kind of as scary as you make it? In that you can be like 'OMG I'm TERRIFIED', OR you could just be like 'Oh, well that was sort of scary but I think I'm ok because of that thing'...

      How helpful was this comment?! Lol

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  2. This one is on my list. I just read We Have Always Lived in the Castle last week and it was so amazing. Perfect RIP read so I'm sure I'll love this one as well. I haven't read The Lottery. Is it a short story? I've seen a few people mention it in passing, but haven't heard much about it.

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    1. Duuude, I just read a review of We Have Always Lived in the Castle today and it sounded excellent! This is really awesome though... Like, I can't even get over how awesome it is!

      The Lottery IS a short story and I'm totally going to find you a link to it because it's online and only takes about 5 minutes to read but is AMAZING. Here you go: http://www.americanliterature.com/Jackson/SS/TheLottery.html
      Seriously, it's SO good!

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    2. You are the best for providing the link! I will check it out. After reading your review, I decided to finally not be lazy and I posted my review of We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Thanks for the motivation. I have been such a crap blogger this year. Sigh.

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    3. Awww, I'm so glad I inspired you or whatever! *feels all proud at self* Also, I'm so glad you came back to see if I replied, because daaaaymn, I really want you to read that story, it's SO GOOD. I just read it again, and yeah, it's still good! (Although totally different to read once you know what's going to happen...)

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    4. I'm going to go read it too! Dude, you're such an enabler... :D

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  3. I need to put this on my list for next year's RIP list!

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    1. You definitely do! It's very creepy!

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  4. I need to read this. Maybe I'll do this as my scary October story since I am just failing at getting you a King list (and thus failing at answering your email entirely and I'm SORRY)

    but yeah this sounds excellent.

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    1. FFS ALLEY, GET WITH IT! But, you know, no rush. You can be scared by SK at any time of the year!

      This truly is an excellent scary story, and ALSO just an excellent story, so yeah, read it read it read it!

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  5. ZOMG I really need to read this book. Not only is it apparently atmospheric and scary and brilliant, but it has a girl-crushing man-fancying awkward oddball called Eleanor in it? DUDE THAT IS TOTALLY AWESOME. *wonders if she could order book without mother noticing* Also, now I totally want to get a Buffy box set. I used to love it (apart from the ventriloquist dummy episode *shudders and then shudders a bit more for good measure*) but I've not seen it in YEARS. And Spike WAS a fox. Hmmmmmmmmmm. *sets to work on a cunning mother-defying book-and-DVD-acquiring plan* *eats biscuit* *fails miserably*

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    1. DUDE YES! This did not occur to me, cause you're not a spaz like Eleanor- but if you want to see parallels between yourself and her, then don't let ME stop you!

      You should totally get this, and then maaaaybe get Buffy for Christmas? It is SO wonderful though, I LOVE IT! (Buffy, that is. Although I love this too, obvs)

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  6. I read The Haunting of Hill House last year and it is still one of the creepiest books I've ever read!

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    1. Isn't it though?! I think it's going to keep popping into my brain when I least expect it, so creepy/awesome :)

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  7. Interesting story about this book and me. I saw the movie version in 1998 or 1999. It was scary, it creeped me out, and I could hardly watch it. And of course, I had to read the book, because the book is always better, right? Well, I read it, and all I could think is, "this is so cliched, feels so old-fashioned, why do people think this is scary?, the movie is so much better, etc." It was years before I realized that the book was a classic, and that all the cliched, old-fashioned feeling wasn't cliched at all - it was the START of those cliches, and modern novels built off of her work. So a year ago, I went back and revisited the book, with the age in mind, to see if I had a different perspective. And you know what?? It was AWESOME!! So deliciously creepy, every single little bit. I loved it, and I loved We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and I loved The Lottery. I can't believe the things I thought when I was 20 or so.

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  8. I read The Haunting of Hill House a couple of years ago and loved it as well. The scariest part was perhaps that time when Eleanor and Theodora are in their rooms and hear something out in the hallway.

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