PUBLISHER: Penguin Classics
RELEASE DATE: First published 1959
FORMAT: Paperback, 246 pages
Four seekers have arrived at the rambling old pile known as Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of psychic phenomena; Theodora, his lovely and lighthearted assistant; Luke, the adventurous future inheritor of the estate; and Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman with a dark past. As they begin to cope with chilling, even horrifying occurrences beyond their control or understanding, they cannot possibly know what lies ahead. For Hill House is gathering its powers – and soon it will choose one of them to make its own. (Amazon)
The story starts by introducing us to Dr Montague who is wants to make a name for himself by studying the supernatural, specifically haunted houses. He discovers Hill House which is a renowned for being haunted and invites a motley set of assistants to help him observe the ‘ghostly’ phenomenon. The central characters are introduced to the reader partly from the viewpoint of Dr Montague, much like you are reading a page from his diary and then segue in to a first person account of their lives and how they have ended up at Hill House.
The story focuses most heavily on Eleanor who has had a sad and lonely existence taking care of the invalid mother she hated. Eleanor is delighted, throughout the story, with Hill House despite being warned away from the start. Eleanor has some experience with the paranormal in her childhood but this is neither really explained nor even discussed other than in the introductory paragraphs. She is immediately drawn to the more flighty and artist Theodore who is staying in the room beside her. Theodora is an artist/artist model who has had an argument with her roommate (or more likely boyfriend) and decides to take up the offer to stay at Hill House for the summer as a means of escape. She is everything you would expect from a character set in this time period and it is not hard to see how the less worldly and sheltered Eleanor would be enamoured with her. Luke, the future heir of Hill House and general ‘lay about cad’ is the final member of the group. He plays a rather background role in the story until the final chapters where we see a bit more of him than just drinking brandy and playing chess with Dr Montague.
THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE had the beginnings of a really strong ghost story but in the end was the tiniest bit dull. I enjoyed the writing style and found it reminiscent of Daphne Du Maurier but unlike Du Maurier the characterisation was lacking. While Eleanor was more developed than the other characters there really wasn’t much substance to Dr Montague, Theodora or Luke. I did like how Jackson turned the house into a character in its own right but I wasn’t clear on who or what made the house so malevolent. I always find it odd in both movies and novels where the characters are told ‘don’t go there, the house is haunted’, or ‘ run away as fast as you can’ but the still the characters persist and then usually end up terrified and/or dead. I guess there wouldn’t be a story without them taking the leap! In THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE the characters are warned off by the caretakers, the Dudleys but their dire warnings are unheeded. Even after a night of ghastly ghostly terrors the characters just leap out of bed and rush down to see enjoy a delicious breakfast and this seemed completely incongruous with what makes a ghost story scary. The characters had no sense of impending doom or seem the least bit frightened after the evening’s haunting was finished and therefore, there was no build up or suspense. In the end I just didn’t care what happened to any of the characters, in fact was looking forward to a ghost related murder.
I was really looking forward to reading THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE as I was convinced as it was a classic that it was going to be a really chilling ghost story. I was however, left quite disappointed. The characters seemed to forget the ghastly, ghostly happenings almost immediately after they happened and more concerned about the quality of the soufflé than they were about what was going on around them. While the narrative was very true to the period and was rich in subtext I wasn’t shocked or unnerved by the story Jackson was trying to tell. For a ghost story it felt a bit flat.
SHIRLEY JACKSON ONLINE
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