by Shirley Jackson
It’s been a long time since a book pinned me to my bed and held me hostage for hours. The Haunting of Hill House did this – both in the sense that I couldn’t put it down and read late into the night, and in the sense that I was nearly paralyzed by the shivers running rampant up and down my spine. At one point, crunched under a blanket with the book nearly touching my nose, vaguely aware that CP was turning out lights and calling the cats inside for the night, so engrossed and possessed by Hill House was I that when CP spoke to me rather suddenly and rather loudly, I nearly came out of my skin. Breathless, helpless laughter followed.
It is said by most who have read her that Jackson is the queen of the slow build up, the repressed sense of unease that gradually grows into this all-enveloping THING. You don’t always know or fully understand what this THING is that spooks you, but it is so brilliantly realized that you believe in it entirely until by some miracle you reach the end of the book and are released.
The Haunting of Hill House is about a house that may or may not be haunted, may or may not be in the possession of evil spirits, may or may not be in itself a being of evil. Dr. Montague and three assistants intend to spend several weeks living in Hill House, investigating its paranormal tendencies, aware that for the past 20 years or so no human habitants have managed to stay there for more than several days.
They quickly find out that something certainly is awry in Hill House. It’s a dark, dismal house with doors that continually close of their own accord, and lines and angles that are off just enough to cause optical illusions and mess with a person’s balance. And that’s not all, of course.
The personal baggage that Eleanor, Theodora, Luke, and Dr. Montague bring with them to the house, and the relationships that quickly form between them provide an intriguing counterpoint to the things that go bump in the night, at least for as long as the line between what’s real and what isn’t remains clear. Once that line gets blurred, the ride gets wild, and Hill House begins to dance.
Jackson’s genius lies in her ability to suggest – she never comes right out and says something. There is no definitive THIS is what HAPPENED. You’re left to imagine just as much as you would like, and that’s kind of the idea she explores in the book as well – how much haunting is done by one’s own mind? It’s not the ghosts who are dangerous – it’s the fear of the ghosts and what that fear causes a perfectly sane and reasonable person to do, that is dangerous.
So is Hill House haunted? I guess you’ll have to read the book to find out. I’ve been meaning to read more Jackson since being flabbergasted by We Have Always Lived in the Castle last December. The Haunting of Hill House was on my vaguely assembled R.I.P. V challenge list, but it was really the dare laid down by Jenn at Funny, that which gave me the extra push. Thanks Jenn! Well worth the shivers.
Although more often than not I entirely forgot about the beer I was drinking, so involved in the story was I, I did try more autumnal brews over the course of the read – the Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company (Chico, CA) was particularly good, and I’ve picked up a second sixer of that since. I also consumed several bottles of Gritty McDuff’s Halloween Ale (Portland, ME), and Shipyard Brewing Company’s Pumpkinhead (also Portland, ME). The Halloween Ale was another easily drinkable brew, and the Pumpkinhead is one of those tricky beers that has tons of spice and thus tons of yummy flavor…but no actual pumpkin in it! Still, it’s a pretty delicious beer and one that I revisit at least once a season.
I’ve got some Daphne du Maurier and Thomas Hardy picks in my R.I.P. future, as well as plenty more beers to try. I’m off to get a start on both. 🙂