The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House is the first book I’ve completed for my RIP event over at Stainless Steel Droppings (and for those of you who haven’t yet signed up there’s plenty of time to do so.  Details here) and I thought it was great.

Now, firstly I should probably point out that this book was written in the late 50s and so if you’re expecting some sort of horror along the lines of the most recent movie then you’ll probably be disappointed.  (Although I would say that the earlier black and white version does a much better job of portraying the book – even if it doesn’t appeal to horror fans.  (Basically, think along the lines of reading I am Legend and then comparing it to the recent movie – not really anything alike).

For me, this was much more psychological and, if you’ve already read other Jackson stories this will probably ring true for you.

Hill House starts off as an experiment by Dr Montague.  He invites people who he thinks have psychic abilities to come and stay at Hill House, which he believes to be haunted, to see and record their various experiences.  Two of these people respond.  Eleanor and Theodora.  Luke, the heir apparent also joins the cosy little party.

There’s such a lot that I enjoyed about this story.  Jackson is excellent at setting up characters.  Eleanor is, of course, the main character.  She’s lead a strange and inhibited life.  At the constant beck and call of her mother and since her mother’s death seemingly living in the shadow of her sister. At the opposite end we have Theodora with her extrovert nature, beautiful and flippant and frankly the complete opposite of the shrinking violet Eleanor.  Step into their lives two different males characters.  Dr Montague, who acts like the fatherly, wise teacher to the group – although he seems a little out of his own comfort zone – and Luke, who seems to be the object or toy of Theodora’s attention.

So, all of these characters diverge upon Hill House – the only other characters are the gatekeeper/groundsman and his wife – both leave the property locked when they go at 6.00 pm (or when it goes dark – and, by the way, they can’t hear the inhabitants screams from where they live!).  There seems to be a sort of hysteria about Hill House with the villagers – who simply don’t acknowledge it’s presence, let alone speak of it.  Even Eleanor, upon arrival, has an overwhelming fear of the house.  It’s shape, it’s proportions, the way it seems to watch her.

As you read the story you wonder how much of this is a ghost story and how much is a prank on the part of someone else and yet certain of the occurrences can’t so simply be explained away.  All of the guests experience something strange and yet Eleanor seems to be the target.

Is it simply that Eleanor is a little unhinged herself?  I’m not sure even now and am going round in circles thinking about it.  She certainly seemed to lack anything of her own and seemed to come into her own at Hill House.  I definitely had a few moments of thinking maybe she was the perpetrator of certain ‘elements’ of the story in order to gain attention yet as the book progresses I began to think that her behaviour was as a result of the house and certainly some of her thoughts were quite strange to read.

Everything about the house is evil, apparently.  It was built at strange angles so that everything you see is not quite where it should be.  All the doors mysteriously shut by themselves as they seem to be hung on a slant.  The contents are dark and they add to the general feel of foreboding.  The rooms fan out from a central location with no apparent reason, lots of doors from each room lending an overall impression of confusion.

The long story short on this one is simply was Eleanor paranoid delusional or was she influenced by the house.  Given the last thoughts in the book I think the latter but let me know what you think.

This is definitely a good read.  It’s not horrendous or terrible but it definitely has it’s chilling moments and seeing how Eleanor develops and changes and being privy to her sometimes rather strange thoughts was quite fascinating.

I read this as part of my RIP and also my Classics list.

Coming of Age

Posted On 18 October 2012

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As part of Stainless Steel Droppings R.I.P. today Carl is hosting another discussion topic which specifically looks at coming of age – inspired by Gaiman’s Graveyard book.  The link is here.

It’s a curious topic and given the number of books and films that share the theme it’s obviously a source of great interest and speculation.  Coming of age – the strange phenomenon of passing from childhood to adulthood.  How does it happen and how can you tell whether it did or not.  It’s not just an age thing.  You don’t go to sleep one night age 15, wake up the following day, on your sixteenth birthday, and change into a different person.  I suppose it’s a gradual process and more tricky for some than others.  I confess that I had a very easy transition – so much so that I hadn’t a clue it had even happened!  But in spite of growing up, having a family and responsibilities I still feel like a child inside.  I think that’s a good thing and I love the fact that I can enjoy a good book or film – even if I’m not the target audience.  It’s all about going down that wormhole (thanks Geekybooksnob for that phrase) and immersing yourself in the world contained in the pages.  You’re never too old to enjoy this and don’t let anyone tell you different.

Anyway, as with my other discussion topic I’ve decided to focus on books that explore the coming of age theme and have the following offers:

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – I really love this story of Dickens.  It was one of my earliest reads and it has such a lot going on that it totally appealed to me.  Young Pip, living with his older sister and her husband Joe.  He has a tough life but one which changes dramatically when he is elevated from his expectations of becoming a blacksmith to become a gentleman with a secret patron.   There are so many emotions in this book as we look at Pip as a young boy moving to a young man.  He suffers constant conflicts, fear and guilt over his early crime (stealing food from his sister’s pantry) he wants to do better and has ambitions, he definitely feels shame over his early social status and then once his status has risen he feels ashamed of Joe and his way of life.  He aspires to love young Estelle – but is this because of her beauty and personality or her wealth and social status.  We do go through quite a bit with young Pip and it’s definitely an interesting journey.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – another young orphan being raised by her aunt (who is less than pleased at the intrusion).  She certainly isn’t treated like a member of the family and dislikes and resents her cousins – with little surprise given the bullying involved.  Eventually Jane is palmed off to a boarding school – a rather impoverished and bleak placed with harsh task masters – until she eventually comes of a reasonable age and decides to take care of her own destiny by applying for the position of governess to a child under the care of Mr Rochester.  Again, a  young child at the beginning, we watch as Jane progresses through the years before eventually falling in love.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.  A fantasy novel.  A tale told by an innkeeper called Kote who over three days is going to tell his story – the story of a young boy called Kvothe.  A gifted young boy who travels with his family and a troupe of entertainers – that is until disaster strikes and he’s left to fend for himself.  Kvothe, dreams of going to University.  He’s incredibly intelligent and a gifted musician but he also has a tendency to be reckless and seems to have a knack for making people dislike him – particularly his tutors and fellow students – a lot who also look down on his poor social status.  I love this book.  I love reading about Kvothe and the progress he’s making, the second book is also excellent and I literally can hardly contain myself waiting for No.3

Atonement by Ian McEwan – this is a really interesting book about a young girl, Briony, and her perception of the events going on in her family – and how this perception is skewed.  It shows how something can get terribly out of hand and how something that starts as a simple mistake can have such a big impact on the lives of other people.  It then shows us how these events will stay with Briony and shape her character, she will continually carry that guilt and spend a lot of her life trying to atone for her mistake.

And, finally, I’m going to say The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.  Which is, I suppose an unusual choice given that Susie is murdered at the start of the story – so how can she come of age.  But, you do see Susie change and develop, she goes through the inevitable feelings of anger and loss at having been so cruelly robbed of life and the experiences that she will never have but she does continue to change whilst watching her family cope with her death.  Eventually, Susie is able to move on from her own personal heaven to a different place.  this is an amazing book – that I didn’t expect to enjoy given the subject matter – and yes, I loved this.

Interesting fact for today:  did you know that a book with a coming of age them is called a Bildungsroman – try saying that three times very fast!  (And, no, I didn’t know that until about 5 minutes ago Wiki definition –

“a Bildungsroman is a literary genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood and in which character change is thus extremely important”

Happy reading one and all.