...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:
- You're fascinated by haunted houses.
- You love Shirley Jackson.
- 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.