Thursday, March 10, 2011
Book Thievery #5: "The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson
But, should I have been reading this in, say, my grandfather's cottage in Gatineau - with its Catholic shrines in the nearby woods and truly awful amounts of seaweed about - I'm sure I would've lost my head. Here is why:
1. Animate houses: Things are so rarely effectively "animated" - i.e., brought to life, though still possessing their thingness (as opposed to, say, golems in fantasy) - as Jackson's Hill House is. That thing becomes a monster. Not some aspect of the house, mind you; not some room, and neither some particular spirit that lies in wait. The house itself - from the very first moment Eleanor, the main character, catches sight of it - is evil. It is also sorrowful, ancient, and lonely. Hill House is truly a character in this novel - in fact, I would argue it is the protagonist - with a highly articulated personality, very specific actions, and a notion for quite awful strategy. And... that's awesome.
3. The inhumanity: In "Hill House," there is a definite sense that one character is "broken" because they are weakest. Early on, I experienced definite and excellent chills as this character partly invented her life story, and partly incorporated elements of her surroundings into it; and then saw this life-story crumble. The horror of that was considerably stronger than any hauntings in Hill House. Indeed, there is a strong sense of injustice in "Hill House," which is nonetheless fully vindicated and borne out by the characters. The inhumanity is, indeed, endemic; and it is this true-to-lifeness that makes "Hill House" as scary as it is.
"The Haunting of Hill House" is a deep book; it is much more than "horror," I think. I was much less scared by it than I expected, but I was nonetheless very chilled; and I suspect that a more authentically tragic horror story will be hard to find. I recommend it to anyone who wants to read a good book, whether or not they want to read good horror; I was transfixed - I had to know - from the beginning to the end of this tale, and that's the very best kind of book to read - genre conventions all aside.