Monday, 31 October 2016

Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson is one of my favourite authors. I love her style of writing, so deceptively simple, and the growing sense of unease that pervades her stories.

I saw film versions of The Haunting of Hill House several years ago. I don't remember much of the original 1963 film (released as The Haunting), apart from the scary spiral staircase scene(!), although it is apparently fairly faithful to the book. I do remember the 1999 version starring Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta Douglas, which was entertaining (if cheesy), and didn't bear much resemblance to the book at all. As I read the story, I found myself wishing that someone like the BBC would remake it, keeping true to the source material, because it would make a deliciously creepy drama.

Dr John Montague has been looking for a haunted house to study. When he hears about the notorious Hill House, he decides to stay there and see what happens. Rather than go alone, he invites several others to go with him, without actually telling them the house is haunted. In the end only two others turn up: Eleanor, who experienced poltergeist activity as a child (when stones fell onto her house for three days), and Theodora (Theo), who has ESP. A third guest, Luke, is foisted onto Dr Montague by the owner of Hill House - Luke's aunt. Luke is a liar and a thief, and his aunt is hoping that by sending him to Hill House to keep an eye on her property she will keep him out of trouble.

Luke was my favourite character. Despite the lying and the thieving, he does have some principles and finds humour in most situations. He also gets the best one-liners! Eleanor is the heroine. In her early thirties, she has had a very lonely life caring for her mother and feels guilty that she couldn't be there when her mother died. She is thrilled to be invited to Hill House, delighted to make friends with Theo, and sees Luke as a possible romance waiting to happen. She loves the feeling that she finally 'belongs'. Of course that's exactly when everything starts to go horribly wrong.

The Haunting of Hill House is more psychological suspense than ghost story, so horror fans might find it a little slow. There are some very spooky moments; my favourite is when Eleanor comes across a family having picnic in the grounds of the house, only for it to disappear as she runs though it, but the first scare does not occur until at least halfway through the book.

So, recommended if you like deliciously creepy psychological suspense with the occasional shock. But maybe not if you want your ghost stories to terrify you from the very first page. Although the shocking twist at the end took me completely by surprise.

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