Tuesday, December 13, 2011

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE





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The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson, Viking Penguin, 1959, 246 pp


This turned out to be my least liked novel by Shirley Jackson. In fact, I like the early Hangsaman, 1951, the most.

In The Haunting of Hill House, Dr Montague, an occult scholar, has gathered with three individuals selected for evidence of psychic abilities, in the old unoccupied mansion with its sad history of deaths, including suicide. The Doctor hopes to find solid evidence for what is called "haunting."

Eleanor, the protagonist, is a typical Jackson heroine. She comes from unhappy family experiences and has a vaguely alluded to record of causing poltergeist activity. During her journey to Hill House, which takes up the entire first chapter, it becomes clear that she is an unbalanced personality.

My trouble with the novel began in Chapter 2 when Eleanor arrives at Hill House and begins to meet the other characters. We only ever get glimpses of them and I never was sure if any of them were good people or bad; certainly they were unreliable.

Hauntings occur every night and Jackson's descriptions of them are harrowing but they don't mesh with the rest of the narrative. The characters pop in and out of several personalities which enhances the instability. I got the feel of a horror story but was not convincingly alarmed.

An unforeseen twist at the end threw me into doubt about the whole book I had just read. Was the author making fun of psychic phenonemena? Was she saying such things are real but unpredictable? I don't know and I was not a happy reader being left that way.

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