Sunday, October 31, 2010

I want to live here

...I am scared, but more than that, I am a person, I am human, I am walking reasoning humorous human being and I will take a lot from his lunatic filthy house but I will not go along with hurting a child, no, I will not; I will by God get my mouth to open right now and I will yell I will I will yell "STOP IT," she shouted, and the lights were on the way they had left them and Theodora was sitting up in bed, startled and disheveled.

"What?" Theodora was saying. "What, Nell? What?"

"God God," Eleanor said, flinging herself out of bed and across the room to stand shuddering in a corner, "God God -- whose hand was I holding?"

Well they don't make them haunted house ghost stories like they used to. Shirley Jackson's novel The Haunting of Hill House makes all other horror stories seem amateurish. (I won't even compare it to the movie of the same title. The movie's a joke, really.) If all horror novels were written the same way as Jackson's, I wouldn't have a good night's sleep for over a year.

The novel opens with a very atmospheric chapter, describing Hill House and its guests in vivid detail. Dr. Montague, a scholar who studies paranormal phenomena has invited 3 guests to stay in the now abandoned Hill House, a house with a very curious and dark past. Eleanor has been invited because of her experience with poltergeists when she was a child. Theodora, a beautiful and carefree woman, was invited because of her uncanny psychic abilities. And rounding up the guests is Luke, the heir to Hill House.
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.
The novel is of entirely Eleanor's. We never know whether the hauntings the group experiences in the house has been brought about by Eleanor's subconscious manifesting as paranormal events. Hill leaves it up to the reader to make that decision. And granted that people will have different opinions about these hauntings, what's undeniable is the novel's creepy and atmospheric feel. It's enough to give you shudders every now and then.

What struck me after reading the novel is the feeling that haunted houses, or stories about ghosts and haunted houses, are enveloped by sadness. You feel sad knowing the tragic fate of the original owners of Hill House. You feel sad after reading the reasons on how Eleanor has become the paranoid and insecure woman that she is. You're saddened by the fate of the characters, having the premonition that, by the end of the novel, these people are not the constants -- it is the house that will remain.

There are several scenes in The Haunting of Hill House that I keep thinking about. One involved Eleanor clutching the hands of Theodora when they hear a loud banging on the door in the middle of the night, only for Eleanor to discover that Theodora was at the far end of the bed when the lights came back on. And the chapters when we read about the voices that Eleanor hears as she walks the claustrophobic hallways of Hill House are so hair raising. These scenes are what makes the novel enduring. The Haunting of Hill House feels timeless in its shock value, even though it was written more than 50 years ago.

It was fortuitous that I found this copy during the Halloween weekend, as I have been on the hunt for this novel for the longest time. And what better time to find it that on Halloween. It's fate, no? And I finished it on the night of the 31st, perfect timing to give myself a reason to sleep under the covers.

We're all fascinated by old houses. We become curious about its history every time we step into one. But let me ask you, dear reader. Would you still spend a night in a big, old, and abandoned house after learning that its owners met a horrible fate? I know I would.

Read this book if:
  1. You're fascinated by haunted houses.
  2. You love Shirley Jackson.
  3. You don't feel like donning a costume this Halloween and just want to curl up in bed with a wonderfully written creepy read.
I was with a good friend in the children's section of a bookstore and I was telling him about Susan Hill's The Man in the Picture, another one of Hill's ghost stories. The novel is really hard to find, so imagine our shock when we found a single copy on top of a stack of children's books. Just that one misplaced copy. It's as if the book was calling out to us. I must admit that it kinda creeped me out.


Portobello's coffee said...

Finding that book "serendipitously" creeped me out as well. I was about to read The Man in the Picture when i got home but decided otherwise. Don't wanna give in to it just yet.

On another note, Roald Dahl observed that most effective gothic horror writers recently are women. Shirley Jackson, Susan Hill etc. Interesting no?

Peter S. said...

Hi, Portobello's coffee! I never noticed that. Hmmmm... Come to think of it, Dahl got it right!

C.B. James said...

"Whatever walked there, walked alone." I love that line. And I love the book as well.

Peter S. said...

Hi, C.B. James! Yes, I love that line too. It speaks a lot about the house, no?

Ryan said...

I think it's time to let go of my generalized fear of anything scary and read this book. This aroused so much of my curiosity.

orly.agawin said...

you and Jackson are soul mates. eerie, though, but undeniable and lovely!

wish I can have my own copy of House someday.

Ryan G said...

One of my favorite books of all time, I'm so glad you liked it.

Now if you are taling about the most recent version of the film, the one with Catherine Zeta Jones, I would have to agree with you. It was atrocious. Now the 1963 B&W version with Julie Harris and Claire Bloom was brilliant though. The acting was excellent and the directing was spot on. One of the best movies at using agnles to create atmosphere. Both movies are called "The Haunting" though not "The Haunting of HIll House".

Indigo said...

This book sounds like it's right up my avenue. I love haunted reads. Thanks for the heads up! (Hugs)Indigo

Peter S. said...

@Ryan: If you're going to read just one scary book, this better be it.

@Orly: Yes, we are! Hehehe.

@Ryan G. Yes, I was talking about the most recent movie adaptation. Crappy. I better find myself a copy of that old movie.

@Indigo: You're welcome. Happy Halloween!

Bibliophile said...

This is a great book, and I have yet to read a psychological thriller that comes anywhere near being as chilling as this one.

Peter S. said...

Hi, bibliophile! Yes, it's very psychological. I guess that's why people are drawn to this book for different reasons.

Portobello's coffee said...

I agree with Ryan G. The 1963 movie version is waaay better than the more recent one. I think it perfectly captured the atmosphere of The Haunting by NOT showing what lurks. Somehow, all that computer rendered, high tech special effects makes horror movies more comical than horrifying. Things unseen are definitely more frightening!

Another excellent b&w movie is The Innocents starring Deborah Kerr. It's based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Very gothic. Very creepy!

I'll give you a copy.

Peter S. said...

Thanks, Portobello's coffee!

SariJ said...

I have not read this book, not sure why since I love Jackson. I will say though if you can get your hands on the original black and white film it too will creep you out.

Will said...

I always see this title whenever I Google "scariest horror novels". I might try it out some time.

By the way, I’m giving away a Chuck Palahniuk novel next week. perhaps you might be interested to join.

Peter S. said...

Hi, SariJ! Now I really must see that movie! You're the 5th person to mention it to me!

Hello, Will! Thanks for the link!

World B4U said...

Thanks, Portobello's coffee!