Friday, May 2, 2014

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Upon finishing this book I knew two things:

1) Its reputation in my mind would grow over time

2) I wanted to revisit it in the near future and give it another read (which is something I rarely even consider)

For me, it didn't have the visceral impact that many people report after reading it. I didn't find the book scary. In fact, some aspects I found rather silly, like the introduction of Mrs. Montague near the end of the book. She was such a broadly drawn caricature of a overbearing wife, and she seemed to go completely against the grain of the novel. But the more I thought about it, I realized she did have a purpose after all, and a crucial one. (To go into why I believe her appearance to be so important would spoil the book.) I also thought Dr. Montague was a pretty ridiculous character himself, and a truly pathetic paranormal investigator. He's shown measuring a single cold spot in the house, and for the rest of the novel he's just hanging out eating big meals, sipping brandy, and playing chess.

And, yes, I know that the Montagues and their investigations aren't what this book is all about. I understand that this is Eleanor's story, and that this novel's chief strength lies with this fascinating, well-drawn character. I found her relationship with Theodora more engrossing than any of the supernatural elements in the story. It was far more interesting to watch Shirley Jackson writing around lesbian sexuality. And I'm sure that someone somewhere has already made the case that it's this repressed, forbidden sexuality that's the true source of the psychic disturbances experienced at Hill House.

Did I think this was a fine ghost story? Yes. It also ended the way I like horror stories to end. I was very pleased in this regard. And, yes, yes, the writing was beautiful at times, especially the first and last paragraphs of the book. I do understand why this novel is considered a classic. But, I do have to admit that after my first reading, it didn't immediately land in my own personal list of classics.

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