The Haunting of Hill House
Reviewed by Rob Gates
By Shirley Jackson
Rating: 9 out of 10
I read The Lottery way back in high school, and just like most everyone
else, being forced to read the story turned me off to Shirley Jackson.
It wasnít until the last few years that Iíve discovered a whole nother
side to her writing Ė her horror-ish works.
While Hill House was not quite as powerful as some of her other works
(We Have Always Lived In The Castle for instance) it is a fine example
of the power of words alone to run chills down ones spine. Itís a shame
that real horror has almost been destroyed by an endless stream of cinematic
gore-fests and literary snoozers with burial ground monsters. There are
no crazed axe murderers, satanic creatures or walking ghouls to be found
here, just a house. Instead, Jackson chills with sounds, building tensions
with doors that close on their own and occasional off-stage outbursts of
what may simply be psychic phenomena. What she shows us is the horror of
madness, the horror of not quite being in control, the horror of not knowing.
Itís a literary technique that seems lost on most of todayís writers.
The story centers around 4 characters; Dr. Montague, Luke, Theodora,
and Eleanor. These 4 people have gathered under the jurisdiction of Dr.
Montague to investigate Hill House, an irregularly designed house with
a dark past. Luke represents the family that owns the house, while
Theo and Eleanor both have histories of being psychically active. They
meet and bond, becoming a close knit group quickly. But things and their
relationships to each other, particularly Nell, fall apart rapidly. Jackson
cleverly plays both ends against the middle, leaving some question as to
the nature of the events at Hill HouseÖare they caused by spirits or some
other malignant entity, or are they the result of a psychically active
and mentally unstable young woman (Eleanor).
This was a fine book, and a good cure for the horror doldrums. Fascinatingly
enough for its time, the implication that Theo is a lesbian is not subtle,
and Jackson plays with the relationship between the two women with a powerful
undercurrent. This undercurrent was even less subtle in the fabulous movie
made from this story, The Haunting. I strongly recommend the book (the
movie is a must!).