Sunday, September 25, 2011

Shirley Jackson/THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE

Eleanor Vance, 32, lost eleven years of her life to caring for an invalid, mentally unstable mother. As a result, she is lonely and shy and completely without friends. When she receives an invitation to work as an assistant to Dr. Montague (an academic whose "real" work is the study of the paranormal), she jumps at it.

Dr. Montague is looking for evidence of a true haunting, and in Hill House, he appears to have found it. If buildings have psychologies, Hill House is one of complete insanity. The house has a terrible reputation among the town's locals, so much so that they are hostile to anyone asking for directions to it. But along with two other assistants, Eleanor helps the good doctor collect evidence of paranormal activity.

This novel qualifies as a horror novel (in fact, it's considered one of the very best in the genre)—though there's no gore. The horror is all psychological, and Jackson is so skilled as a writer, all she needed to do was paint us a picture of Eleanor's loneliness to show how easily the house could play on it. The others have their moments, too, but it's clear that among them, Eleanor is the easiest target.

No matter how cliché the haunted house trope may be, I've not read anyone who's done it better than Shirley Jackson (nor anyone who does a better job of painting someone who is lost emotionally and psychologically). She's one of those writers who achieved being both a good storyteller and a good writer. Her writing is a study in economy on par with Hemingway's. And I think that's one of the reasons this novel is considered more "respectable" than most others in the horror genre. You really can't fault the writing, even if it's not your style. It's really too bad she didn't publish more before her death. Makes her work all that more a treasure. 

4 comments:

Jenny said...

Ah, this is such a creepy book. Shirley Jackson makes the haunting stuff pretty small and not hugely frightening, and for some reason, that's much scarier.

stacy said...

Yep, you put it well, Jenny.

Alison's Book Marks said...

Just in time for Halloween!! Great review. Was there a movie? The title sounds familiar, and I can "picture" certain scenes. I'm not sure if this is because I've read it (books become that alive for me) or if there was a movie.

stacy said...

Thanks, Alison!

There were actually two movies done based on this book - one in the 1960s and one much more recent. But the more recent one bore little resemblance to the book.