Sunday, 4 December 2016

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE by Shirley Jackson

This book, written in 1959, is apparently a famous progenitor of the modern supernatural thriller. Shirley Jackson is well know as the literary mother of Steven King. The story begins with an elderly scientist who invites a group of people to come to study an old house with him - Hill House - which has a long and strange history. The group includes a wealthy young man, heir to the house; a beautiful young lady who as a child experienced a poltergeist; and our main character, a young woman who has spent much of her life unhappily caring for her invalid mother. Here's a rather fabulous description of her:
Eleanor Vance was 32 years old when she came to Hill House. The only person in the world she genuinely hated, now that her mother was dead, was her sister. She disliked her brother-in-law and her five-year-old niece, and she had no friends.

The book has most of the bare bones of what we'd recognise in such a story. There is the house the locals won't visit, the curious scientist, the nightly visits by the unexplained, and of course the death at the end. But in many ways it's less fun than what we now know as the genre. First of all, the group fully believes from the beginning that the house is evil. Thus we are denied the joy of the slow revelation to unprepared and attractive young people. Second, despite the setup, the wealthy young man and the beautiful young woman never get together. Thus, we are denied anybody creeping around the house in their underwear at midnight, which obviously should always be a key ingredient of such a story. Lastly the body count is depressingly sparse, with only one death. Admittedly, it's the narrator's, which is dramatic, but I could have done with a couple more. We're bloodythirsty up in here in the twenty first century.





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