“…it might not then be too fanciful to say that some houses are born bad.”
“The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson
When it comes time to return to working on Rosewood Manor, I know exactly what book will be coming off the shelves to reread to help inspire that great, brooding, heavy feeling that comes with a good haunted house tale. On recommendation of my boyfriend, I finally managed to dig into Shirley Jackson’s icon tale of a terrifying abode and its resonating effects on the human psyche, The Haunting of Hill House, and I’m more than impressed by its ability to get under my skin just as effectively as if I was one of its unfortunate visitors or, even worse, one its lingering permanent occupants.
The premise is simple and one we’ve heard repeated many times in the haunted house horror narrative: a doctor is looking to investigate some paranormal claims, invites some people along for the line, and spookiness and danger ensues. On the surface, the cast of characters and the situation seems very much like one we’ve seen before: there’s innocent and naive Eleanor, the wild and vivacious Theodora, providing two young and nubile heroines, as is the wont for such tales. There’s the scholarly Dr. Montague, heading the whole thing, and there’s Luke Sanderson, a somewhat foppish young man with no direction and no claim to much except a family heritage and the house itself. Since it was written in 1959, it’s safe to say that Hill House doesn’t so much as follow these archetypes as it did create them, but, not getting to it until 2014, it’s clear that it was a formula that continued to be repeated ad nauseum.
What kept Hill House entrancing and out of the norm for me, though, was Jackson’s incredible prose. While there were a few moments when I felt the breezy narrative got a little too Kerouacian for me, I was incredibly impressed and blown away by the unexpected power of the narrative. Eleanor is a fascinating character, one I found myself remarkably relating to on a very deep level. Perhaps I just picked the right time to read this book, as she’s only a few years older than me and is going through a transition that makes her feel that she doesn’t have a place in the world. She’s imaginative and flighty, quite a bit like me, so I found myself incredibly wrapped up in her story and fascinated by the subtle sway Hill House was having over her.
Subtle is actually an excellent word to describe the atmosphere of this book. Hill House is scary in a way you don’t entirely realize; Jackson lures you in with a nice sense of comfort and safety, and then, all of a sudden, things are going haywire and you’re on the edge of your seat. I had to stop reading it before bed because the book, much like Hill House itself, gets right under your skin. When I finished a chapter and started breathing again, I realized that this is precisely the feeling I want to inject into people with my own horror writing.
There’s also so much to this slim book that I felt I missed that will warrant many, many more readings in the future. I’m also interested in external readings about it, too, particularly in the very intriguing relationship built up between Theodora and Eleanor, especially when one takes into consideration Theodora’s…”friend,” and the way her and Luke’s interactions go from slightly chilly to more warm and affectionate. I could go on, but then, the next thing you know, I’ll have a university ready paper on the matter. So I’ll save those thoughts for further reading.
Ultimately, The Haunting of Hill House was a delightful little horror gem, just precisely the sort of horror I love and would love to have more of. It’s making its way onto my ever-growing list of books that are absolute must-reads.
Books read: 005/100.