Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Haunting of Hill House: Review

He had been looking for an honestly haunted house all his life. When he heard of Hill House he had been at first doubtful, then hopeful, then indefatigable; he was not the man to let go of Hill House once he had found it. (p. 4)

Hmmm.  I think I missed a memo.  One titled The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. 'Cause, I was warned by several fellow-bloggers and friends on GoodReads that this book "scared the crap" out of them. "Super scary."  "One of the all-time scariest books ever...."  I kept refusing to read the book near bedtime because I'm a big weenie when it comes to horror and creepy stuff (and it's a testament to my love of Carl's R.I.P. Event each fall that I subject myself to this sort of thing come September & October).  I didn't want to have nightmares.  I kept thinking, "Okay, it's not scary yet.  But it's coming.  It's coming.  It's coming."  And then, "Oh wait.  I'm done.  So....where was the really scary part?  I missed it."  This was so seriously not scary that I may even try to watch the 1963 movie version The Haunting to add to the movie portion of the R.I.P. event. [Possible spoilers coming after the synopsis.]

So...here's the scoop:  Dr. Montague is on a mission to find an authentic haunted house.  When he comes upon Hill House, it would seem that he has found his prize. None of the local townspeople will stay at Hill House after dark.  No one who has rented the house has stayed longer than a night or two.  There is a dreadful past full of death and suicide.  His next mission is to invite people who have experienced some sort of occult incidents in the past to join him at Hill House and see what kind of psychic phenomena they encounter.  Those who accept his invitation include Eleanor, a lonely girl who lived in a house attacked by a rock-throwing poltergeist; Theodora, a more lively girl with psychic tendencies; and Luke, son of the family and heir to Hill House.  Their days at Hill House are fairly ordinary--exploring the rooms and then the grounds.  But the nights are filled with strange, banging-on-the-doors noises, intense cold (especially outside the nursery), and doors that close themselves (when not being banged on).  Eleanor is sure that the house knows her name and is trying to make her its own.  Is she right?

Possible spoilers ahead...

As I said, straight up horror-scary, this isn't.  At least not to me.  Psychologically interesting, yes.  Because although one might think Dr. Montague is the central character, it soon becomes apparent that Eleanor is the main focus.  The manifestations, such as they are, do seem to revolve around her--either happening to her or vaguely being blamed on her.  When I reached the end of the story I was left wondering: Did these events really happen?  Were they all part of Eleanor's imagination and fear?  There was even a hint, from some of the comments from the other characters and thoughts running through Eleanor's mind [yes, we are given access to Eleanor's thoughts], that perhaps the other characters are creating some of the situations.  Following Eleanor and her reactions to the house and events is the most interesting part of the story for me.  It is really intriguing to see how her sense of loneliness and her urgency to belong to the group affect her experiences in the house.

Where I really lost all sense of scariness (what little there was) was when Mrs. Montague showed up with her planchette and her side-kick Arthur.  She demands to know what her husband has done about contacting the departed and won't let him get a word in edgewise. She was pure comic relief to me and, quite honestly, I couldn't see that the story was tense enough to need any relief.  It is also possible, now that I think it over, that her odd, no-nonsense approach to contacting the spirit world just threw a bucket of cold water over the atmosphere in the house and that was why the doctor's investigations came to an end.  

Three and a half stars for a good, interesting story. 

Don't do it, Eleanor told the little girl [silently]; insist on your cup of stars; once they have trapped you into being like everyone else you will never see your cup of stars again.... (p. 22)

I congratulate myself. I have led you to civilization through the uncharted wastes of Hill House. ~Dr. Montague (p. 54)

People are always so anxious to get things out into the open where they can put a name to them, even a meaningless name, so long as it has something of a scientific ring. ~Dr. Montague (p. 71)

In any case, I will not sleep for an hour or so yet; at my age an hour's reading before bedtime is essential, and I wisely brought Pamela with me. If any of you has trouble sleeping, I will read aloud to you. I never yet knew anyone who could not fall asleep with Richardson being read aloud to him....On the other hand a Fielding novel comparable in length, although hardly in subject matter, would never do for very young children. I have my doubts about Sterne--   ~Dr. Montague (pp. 89-90)

Everything is worse if you think something is looking at you. ~Dr. Montague (p. 120)

Fear is the relinquishment of logic, the willing relinquishing of reasonable patterns. We yield to it or we fight it, but we cannot meet it halfway. ~Dr. Montague (p. 159)

The library? I think it might do; books are frequently very good carriers, you know. Materializations are often produced in rooms where there are books. ~Mrs. Montague (p. 186)


Anonymous said...

I love Shirley Jackson. My favorite is We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I haven't read this one in awhile and now I really want to revisit it.

Priya said...

I'm sorry you didn't like the book as much. I did feel pretty scared at times, mostly when Eleanor's paranoia (of the 'there's something knocking on the door / the hand I'm holding is not really a hand' kind) washed over me. But then again, I had no expectations from the book; in your case, I can imagine it just not living up to the hype!

Ryan said...

I love this book, and the scariness is more psychological than in your face. I think that's why I prefer it over more modern horror novels. I also think Jackson was brilliant at foreshadowing in this novel, giving the reader insight into what is happening, a bit before it does. I'm sorry you didn't like it as much as you thought you would, but I'm glad you read it.

Bev Hankins said...

Priya and Ryan...3 1/2 stars is still pretty darn good. It's not that I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would...I was just expecting scarier.

Lynn said...

I also read this for RIP. I agree that this isn't horror. If you're expecting outright terror then this isn't the place to find it. It's much more psychological. I really enjoyed it. If push came to shove I would say We Have Always Lived in the Castle was better and slightly more creepy.
Lynn :D