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The Haunting of Hill House (Penguin Classics) Paperback – November 28, 2006
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Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House has unnerved readers since its original publication in 1959. A tale of subtle, psychological terror, it has earned its place as one of the significant haunted house stories of the ages.
Eleanor Vance has always been a loner--shy, vulnerable, and bitterly resentful of the 11 years she lost while nursing her dying mother. "She had 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." Eleanor has always sensed that one day something big would happen, and one day it does. She receives an unusual invitation from Dr. John Montague, a man fascinated by "supernatural manifestations." He organizes a ghost watch, inviting people who have been touched by otherworldly events. A paranormal incident from Eleanor's childhood qualifies her to be a part of Montague's bizarre study--along with headstrong Theodora, his assistant, and Luke, a well-to-do aristocrat. They meet at Hill House--a notorious estate in New England.
Hill House is a foreboding structure of towers, buttresses, Gothic spires, gargoyles, strange angles, and rooms within rooms--a place "without kindness, never meant to be lived in...."
Although Eleanor's initial reaction is to flee, the house has a mesmerizing effect, and she begins to feel a strange kind of bliss that entices her to stay. Eleanor is a magnet for the supernatural--she hears deathly wails, feels terrible chills, and sees ghostly apparitions. Once again she feels isolated and alone--neither Theo nor Luke attract so much eerie company. But the physical horror of Hill House is always subtle; more disturbing is the emotional torment Eleanor endures. Intense, literary, and harrowing, The Haunting of Hill House belongs in the same dark league as Henry James's classic ghost story, The Turn of the Screw. --Naomi Gesinger --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Praise for Penguin Horror Classics:
“The new Penguin Horror editions, selected by Guillermo del Toro, feature some of the best art-direction (by Paul Buckley) I've seen in a cover in quite some time.” – Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
"Each cover does a pretty spectacular job of evoking the mood of the title in bold, screenprint-style iconography." – Dan Solomon, Fast Company
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The novel is written in the third person, but the narrator gets into the head of Eleanor and tells us what she is thinking and seeing, while not similarly getting in the heads of other characters. As Eleanor starts to act more erratically, and her relationship between the other characters seems to deteriorate, you are left wondering whether everything is happening in her head. It's reminiscent of the Henry James novel The Turn of the Screw, in which scholars have debated for a century whether the ghosts "exist" in the novel, or are a product of the disturbed mind of the governess.
Overall I enjoyed the novel, the "terror" is a little understated for today's readers that might be more used to current bloody haunted house/zombie/vampire stories, but I for one found the pace far preferable. A good, relatively quick read. 4 stars
Jackson creates just the right amount of tension and dread to make this a creepy-good psychological thriller. Between Eleanor's unbalanced psyche and the house's history and slightly off angles, the reader moves forward with trepidation. The paranormal events are hair raising and so well described. The characters are well defined, including the housekeeper and her husband. It's a short book, but really keeps you on the edge of your seat. You want to run for your life, right out of Hill House. Well recommended.
I won't go on about the plot. Robert Wise's movie, "The Haunting", was based on the novel but altered things a bit, sometimes simplifying them, sometimes making them more complicated.
Shirley Jackson really gets into it. Her description of the house and its decor is detailed and disturbing. (Her portrait of the old house in her other work, "We Have Always Lived In The Castle," seemed almost obsessive to me.)
Of the characters, the anthropologist running the Geschaft is Dr. Montague, a stereotype of a professor. There is Luke, the young man who will some day inherit the house, and is given to wisecracks and sometimes uses the locutions of a woman. Dr. Montague's arrogant wife and a dull bulb of a servant turn up towards the end but they have little to do with the plot, which is mainly a character study of Eleanor.
The most complex relationship is that between Eleanor and the last of the other guests, a cheerful and attractive woman named Theo. I first read the novel many years ago and it struck me as a tragic ghost story. Now, having seen the movie and read about Theo's being a lesbian, I've just read it again. It strikes me as a tragic love story.
Theo seems like a normal, if sometimes overly amiable, young woman who has a firm grasp on what passes for reality in this story. Yes, she's very friendly with Eleanor. She's frightened and who else is there to bond with? The bearded professor? Luke's callow youth?
It seems to me that Eleanor misinterprets Theo's obvious affection and tries to pressure Theo into taking her home like a stray cat. Theo puts the kibosh on that idea. They'll write one another afterward and maybe visit once in a while, but that's it. They have their own lives to get on with. At least Theo does. She doesn't know it but Eleanor has no other life to return to if she leaves Hill House, and so she makes an existential decision.
The first and last paragraphs are masterful in their own generic way. "Whatever walks at Hill House walks alone." But much of the story takes us inside Eleanor's head, a place we don't necessarily want to be, because Eleanor can sometimes confuse the outside with the inside. A few of her statement could easily have been made by someone with a serious thought disorder.
At any rate, whatever else, you aren't likely to be bored by the novel. It's not very long, and most readers will be swept into it pretty quickly.
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Dr. Montague is an occult scholar looking for evidence of a haunting.Read more