“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
Okay, so I love a good ghost story. It’s just something I do. I watch all the TV shows, read all the stories and I love it when conversations turn to the spectral side of things. So when I heard this book was “the scariest ghost story I’ve ever read” over and over again, this was definitely on the top of my reading pile!
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson is a short novel but is so deeply layered that I really don’t know where to begin. I sat down and read this in one afternoon, but definitely feel a second read is in order somewhen down the track. I felt the same way about Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
The protagonist, Eleanor, is a mousy, dowdy 32 year old who has spent the past years looking after her dying mother. She receives a letter asking her to join a Dr Montague on a scientific experiment at Hill House and decides a little escape is in order. Dr Montague is a parapsychologist, studying the existence of the ghosts and has chosen Hill House as the next project. From this point, things spiral steadily out of control.
Eleanor turns out to be a rather strange protagonist to be following. At some points she is barely tolerable. Her relationships with the other characters are part of what builds the layers of this novel- I was particularly interested in the bond between her and the sexually ambiguous Theodora.
Hill House itself is chilling- this is definitely a psychological thriller instead of your stock standard “lady in white, rattling her chains” kind of ghost story. The house itself is the beast… Or is it Eleanor?
Overall, I did not think this was the scariest ghost story I’ve ever read. I slept perfectly soundly last night. To me it was claustrophobic and dark, keeping me in a prolonged state of dread, waiting for the next strange event… But I certainly wasn’t terrified. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters retains it’s title as the scariest ghost story I’ve read.
By no means is this not a good book, so don’t get me wrong. The prose is fantastic, the characters well rounded, the story moves along at a great pace and Jackson achieves her goals. There is fear, dread and even a little comic relief. Also some fantastic quotes. Perhaps if I’d avoided the hype and didn’t expect anything, I wouldn’t have been so disappointed.
I think this book will stand the test of time and I definitely plan on rereading this!!