Jason's Reviews > The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
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Dec 03, 13

bookshelves: for-kindle, wine-club, 2012, reviewed
Read in October, 2012

My mom has always said that an involuntary shudder—a shiver going up your spine, if you will—indicates someone having just walked over your grave. That cold spot you pass through when walking from the living room into the foyer? That’s not a draft of unheated air coming from upstairs (cold air sinks, you’ll recall)—no, that’s a ghost. And the message written in blood on your bathroom mirror this morning? Well, er, let’s just ignore that for the time being. But really, what is our obsession with the paranormal or the supernatural? What makes it so fascinating even to those of us who don’t believe in it?

Eleanor Vance isn’t sure she believes in it, and yet she agrees to spend a summer at an unoccupied house purported to be haunted. Eleanor reminds me of the unnamed narrator from Rebecca. She is insecure, introverted, and often finds herself fantasizing about her current and future situations. Dreams keep us sane, though, right? Or is the descent toward instability a more slippery path than we’d like to think?

Eleanor is both intrigued by and simultaneously frightened by the concept of solitude. Being an introvert, some of her favorite fantasies involve being on her own, secluded from the unwelcome intrusion of others. But after a few nights in Hill House, maybe being alone isn’t such a grand idea. What induces fear in Eleanor and the other guests of Hill House is their inability to reconcile observed phenomena with fact-based logic at the moment it occurs. They encounter something for which an explanation cannot be immediately provided and their minds are unable to cope. So what happens when these unexplainable occurrences no longer induce fear? Has the fear been somehow conquered? Or is there something more sinister in the fact that the need to formulate logical explanation for the otherwise unexplainable is no longer pressing?

Unlike this guy, I do not believe in spooks. But when the fight-or-flight response associated with fear is triggered in a secure setting—you are home with your significant other and the doors are locked, or you are at a Spooky World funhouse where you know the scares are manufactured—the adrenaline jolt can be a pretty fun thing to experience. And this book is a pretty fun thing to experience because Jackson’s choice to limit the perspective of the protagonist is effective at heightening the senses. Eleanor doesn’t always know what’s going on around her, so neither does the reader. Not only is the line between the living and the dead somewhat blurred, but so is the line separating Eleanor’s internal ventures from that which she perceives externally. It is suffocatingly frightful, I say.

So for those who don’t believe in ghosts, how many of you would be willing to spend a few nights in a house considered haunted by restless spirits? After all, you don’t even believe in restless spirits, so what is there to be afraid of? Except, how would you feel if people refused to believe in you?
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Reading Progress

10/18/2012
50.0% "“We have grown to trust blindly in our senses of balance and reason, and I can see where the mind might fight wildly to preserve its own familiar stable patterns against all evidence that it was leaning sideways.”" 10 comments

Comments (showing 1-45 of 45) (45 new)

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s.penkevich You should, this is pretty good, and readable in one sitting. We had to read it for a class I took a few years ago. If you've ever seen that Stephen King show, Rose Red, much will be familiar since that show basically stole the plot.


Jason I think this is going to be our book club pick for October. Which is good, because I wanted something short (for a change).


s.penkevich Nice. Good halloween time choice.


Maciek Short and nice book. If you'll like it, be sure to check out the B/W movie they made out of it - great piece of cinema.


s.penkevich Yeah, make sure you watch the B/W one though, the remake with Zeta Jones leaves a lot to be desired.


message 6: by Jason (last edited Oct 12, 2012 12:09PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jason I normally prefer to read one-at-a-time, but this is for October book club (thankfully we picked a short one!). I've also sort of been doing the Kowalski Halloween-fest thing this month, but to a lesser extent. Last night I saw George Romero's Dawn of the Dead for the first time ever.


Jason Bird Brian wrote: "Are you watching the same movies as he is?"

No, I am drawing from my own queue. =)

I sort of did this last year but I failed and only watched 5 movies so this is the rest of last year's list:

Night of the Living Dead
Dawn of the Dead
The Poltergeist
The Cabin in the Woods
Ghostbusters

Grindhouse: Planet Terror
Grindhouse: Death Proof
The Devil's Backbone
An American Werewolf in London
Halloween
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre


I'm not even sure I'll get to all of them this year. I think last year I just saw some of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead ones (which were fun!) and a bunch of Asian horror films. I was wicked into the Asian horror last year.


Jason The Occult Elite??! Hah, that seems a bit of a stretch.

"While many appreciated the movie for its wit, humor and originality, the movie’s storyline is nevertheless serious and very real..."

Yeah, no, I don't actually believe that it's very real or serious at all. It's basically a generic horror movie with a Joss Whedon twist, the twist being what makes the movie interesting. It was definitely fun, but nothing totally groundbreaking. I think I gave it a 3.


message 9: by Jason (last edited Oct 12, 2012 01:22PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jason Five stars max. Same as Goodreads.
Here's my flixster account if you want to take a browse: http://www.flixster.com/user/80357394... (I only started rating movies on it this year, though, so it's a shallow list.)


s.penkevich Enjoying this one so far?


message 11: by David (new)

David Bird Brian wrote: "The choices so far aren't too impressive."

BITE ME, BB!


;)


message 12: by David (new)

David My mom has always said that an involuntary shudder—a shiver going up your spine, if you will—indicates someone having just walked over your grave.

Me no understand. If you are alive to experience the shudder, how is it that you have a grave to be walked over?

Unlike this guy, I do not believe in spooks.

THAT'S RACIST!


message 13: by sckenda (new)

sckenda David wrote: "THAT'S RACIST!."
LOL philip roth's "Human Stain" LOL.


Jason Your future grave, I think she means.


message 15: by Nilesh (new)

Nilesh Kashyap Jason wrote: "Your future grave, I think she means."

Hey, what about me? I have no 'future grave' :(
Actually, until and unless, someone kills me by burying alive. *shudders*


Miriam And the message written in blood on your bathroom mirror this morning?

Been pissing the wife off again, eh, Jason?


Jason Miriam wrote: "Been pissing the wife off again, eh, Jason?"

She's too crafty to waste her own blood for that, but good call!


s.penkevich Nice, glad you liked this one. Not bad for a quick scare, eh? 'suffocatingly frightful', that is the perfect description of this. Great review! We read this for a class once, the prof explained it as being just a giant metaphor for Fruedian group-therapy.


Jason Yeah, the limited perspective is definitely very suffocating. Perfect book for this time of year.


Maciek Richard Matheson wrote a book called Hell House, which I thought was pretty good. It's an obvious tribute to Hill House and a good horror novel on its own.


message 21: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Peto I was wondering about the future grave thing too. Cremated people don't shiver. I guess.


Jason Nilesh wrote: "Hey, what about me? I have no 'future grave' :(
Actually, until and unless, someone kills me by burying alive. *shudders*"


What kinds of death-related superstitions to Indians have, Nilesh?


message 23: by Steve (new)

Steve You pose an interesting question at the end, Jason. I've never been put to the test, but I think I'd prefer a haunted house sleepover to a New York hotel with bed bugs.

Speaking of horror movies, did you ever play in goal for the local hockey team?


message 24: by Nilesh (new)

Nilesh Kashyap I'm aware of only few, death-related superstition that exist in India. But not like the one you have written. But like howling of dogs, means that someone is going to die in the family. Lizard falling on head, means death in near future.
Like yours, if a person has hiccup, that means someone is thinking about that person.
But I don't believe in these things and neither 'restless spirit' or something being haunted.
P.S. I typed about a recent incident of superstition that actually lead to death in my family, but deleted it, because many people get uncomfortable by listening about such incidents.


message 25: by Erik (new)

Erik Simon Nice review, Jason. Book's been sitting on my shelf for a while in the Modern Library version. Guess it's time, especially as Halloween is approaching.


message 26: by Jason (last edited Oct 22, 2012 12:17PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jason Erik, it's a quick read which is nice.


message 27: by Greg (new)

Greg Look at that you did review a Shirley Jackson book. I'm still standing by what I said thought that when people name drop her they only ever mean "The Lottery".

And that isn't because that is the only story of her's I've ever read.


message 28: by mark (new)

mark monday nice review. i love this book!


Jason Greg wrote: "Look at that you did review a Shirley Jackson book. I'm still standing by what I said thought that when people name drop her they only ever mean "The Lottery"."

We probably just each draw from our own experiences. This is the only story of hers I've ever read, so probably the one I'd think of first. The Lottery is a short story, though, right? I should probably search for that somewhere.

@mark: thanks!


Maciek Jason, you can read The Lottery here. It's a classic short story and still packs a punch! Jackson received hate mail because of it.

http://www.americanliterature.com/Jac...


Jason Yup, I just found it here, too! I will read it today.


Maciek It is pretty good. Can't wait to hear what you think of it! Jackson's last novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castle also received much praise over here on Goodreads.


Jason Yeah, I'd like to read that one, too, if I ever get my hands on it.


message 34: by mark (new)

mark monday i loved We Have Always Lived in the Castle. such a darling little psychopath!


message 35: by Maureen (last edited Oct 24, 2012 06:25AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Maureen Jason wrote: "Greg wrote: "Look at that you did review a Shirley Jackson book. I'm still standing by what I said thought that when people name drop her they only ever mean "The Lottery"."

We probably just each..."


curious what greg means here -- i'm a shirley jackson fan and i've read most of what i've been able to find -- still need to get a copy of the road through the wall -- if he means that her reputation is founded on the lottery, well, yes that is true -- in the posthumous collection "come along with me" there's an essay where she talks about what happened when that story was published in the new yorker, and the volume of letters from readers it garnered her... but i hope greg does not mean that just because her reputation comes from the lottery that she does not deserve to be read. one of my favourite books in the unsung The Sundial and i never tire of singing its praises. so basically, greg better not be pulling a harold bloom here. :)

i'm happy you've started reading her with this novel -- and there are plenty of excellent stories to be discovered outside of the lottery.

we have always lived in the castle is one of the easier ones to find -- it shouldn't be any trouble to find if you frequent used book stores. :)


Jason Although I can't speak for Greg, I will now speak for Greg. He definitely does not think that's the only Shirley Jackson story worth reading. It's more that in his experience, when people talk about Shirley Jackson, they know of her through that story in particular, as it is her most popular.


message 37: by Goldenwattle (new)

Goldenwattle "So for those who don’t believe in ghosts, how many of you would be willing to spend a few nights in a house considered haunted by restless spirits?"

I would, because nothing would happen.


message 38: by Greg (new)

Greg Jason wrote: "Although I can't speak for Greg, I will now speak for Greg. He definitely does not think that's the only Shirley Jackson story worth reading. It's more that in his experience, when people talk abou..."

That is what I mean, and that whenever the words Shirley Jackson are used in a blurb it almost always means the townsfolk are probably going to gang up and kill someone.


message 39: by knig (new)

knig Like in the Wicker Man (why isn't that on your list?)


Jason The Wicker Man is one of my favorite movies of all-time (not just in the horror genre). It's not listed because I didn't see it this year as part of my October Halloweenfest.


message 41: by Kyle (new) - added it

Kyle Jason wrote: "The Wicker Man is one of my favorite movies of all-time (not just in the horror genre). It's not listed because I didn't see it this year as part of my October Halloweenfest."

I don't care what anyone says, I have to agree with you. The Wicker Man if f-ing awesome, and all my roommates and friends who hate it are just full of suck.

Also, this review is super fun. I'm sad I missed it for Halloween. Maybe I'll plan to read this next year for Halloween; I'll read it alone, in a dark house, with no other sound except for the creaking of the house settling. Of course, I'm a rational, scientific, human being and I would never succumb to flights of unreasonable fantasy. I'm sure of it.

I'm not sure how someone can walk on your grave if you are still alive, though.


Jason It's a great story, Kyle. I'm a realist as well, but I enjoyed it for its ethereal nature, not necessarily for its scares.

I don't care what anyone says, I have to agree with you.

Yessss!


message 43: by Kyle (new) - added it

Kyle Just to be clear though, I'm talking about the old 70's version with Christopher Lee, not that newer thing with Nick Cage.


Jason ABSOLUTELY! (That went without saying.)


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