Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Haunting of Hill House (Shirley Jackson)

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
There are certain horror novels that even the nonbookish have heard of before. Hell House by Richard Matheson, Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin, Psycho by Anthony Burgess, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. These are some of the greats that the genre has built itself upon. The master blue-prints of writing horror: the mothers and fathers of atmosphere; the people who turn houses and motels and apartment buildings into characters all on their own. They do it so well, we often don't realize until much later in the book that we're more scared of bedroom and then boogie man under the bed.

For this #BellesWickedWednesday let's look at The Haunting of Hill House, released in 1959. Jackson's classic is set in an already old and abandoned house, Hill Manor, which is fittingly set at the bottom of a bunch of hills. The family who owns the property refuses to live there, has never been able to keep rented tenets for more than a few days, and keeps the gate locked at all times, and guarded by the obligatory crazy groundskeeper. (I think Jackson is the one who made it obligatory. She was the first one to make a crazy groundskeeper cool in horror.)  

We already know before getting to the house that this was put together by Dr. Montague, a scientist who wants to see if he can establish physical proof of paranormal phenomena that have long been rumored to be happening at the house. He invites along two women, Eleanor and Theodora. Both are thought to be "spiritually sensitive", in the hopes that they will help the house open up emotionally or whatever it is they do. The only stipulation of the family is that their heir, Luke, stay in the house with the guests as a chaperone (or maybe they want him gone so someone else can inherit the house... I mean, if it had  such an intense reputation, why would send your male heir to live there? SKETCH!)
Obviously, as always happens in these situations, the house lives up to its reputation quite well, scaring the bejesus (and a little more) out of everyone staying there.

Ok, so can you please indulge me and let me review this two different ways? First we'll talk about it as a horror classic, a pillar of its genre. It is... masterful. The build of suspense is so steady, so rhythmic, that you can't help but be drawn into the power of this house. The descriptions of the hauntings themselves are gripping and absolutely drip with the atmosphere of evil in the house.

Now, from a modern reading perspective: I never get much into those 50's/60's/70's horror reads. Every time I pick up a classic and read it, I can completely understand why it's a classic, but that doesn't mean I find it especially terrifying or creepy. So, while I enjoy reading them, maybe they weren't actually the right choices (yes I chose multiple classics for this October).

So with reviewing it, I am going to be honest with you, I am grading it on a "Classic Curve", where it gets bonus points for being a classic of the genre.

The final breakdown:

The Book
I 100% believe everyone should read this book. It is fantastic in its own rite.

The Writing
Not the best writing of Jackson's catalog, but still ok.

Read it in one sitting with the lights off, that is the best way to really take advantage of the atmosphere.

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