Tuesday 11 October 2016

#2016ClassicsChallenge: The Haunting of Hill House

Originally published in 1959 by Viking

My edition: The Penguin Modern Classics paperback.

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
After I read and fell in love with ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ last Halloween, I quickly started investigating Shirley Jackson’s other works and this was the one I saw mentioned most.

WHY I Chose to Read It
Shirley Jackson. A haunted house. Halloween. It had to happen.

WHAT Makes It a Classic
Shirley Jackson is a master. Of the short story, of capturing the claustrophobia of small-town America and of completely chilling your blood.

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
I fell in love with Shirley Jackson when I devoured ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ last Halloween, but I've since read her short story collection featuring ‘The Lottery’. ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ is the first novel of hers I've read since then and I’ll admit that I was nervous as I'd heard ‘Castle’ was the best.

I had no need to worry.

‘The Haunting of Hill House’ starts slowly. Eleanor is fighting with her sister as she plans to drive cross-country and stay at Hill House for the summer after being invited by a professor investigating paranormal activity. She’s led a cloistered life, has no friends and no family other than her sister and brother-in-law after spending the last 12 years caring for an ailing mother and she's eager for adventure.

Eleanor is the first to arrive, but she’s soon joined by flighty Theodora, the Doctor and Luke, the heir to Hill House. The novel picks up speed as Dr Montague explains the 80 year history of the house and its inhabitants. The house quickly starts to live up to its reputation as the four visitors begin to explore.

I’m not going to lie, I was thoroughly creeped out by about 50 pages in. I quickly realised that I couldn’t read it at night after I found myself all-out sprinting from my bed to the bathroom and back again… I’m 24, for goodness sake.

The horror is clever and subtle and ‘Hill House’ is still the scariest thing I've ever read. There are no melodramatic deaths, scenes of gross-out gore or ghosts jumping out of wardrobes. The horror is in the suspense, in the imagination and in the fear of the characters and the reader, and it’s so effective. I could have devoured this book in only a few sittings but it creeped me out so thoroughly that I ended up taking a week to read it in small doses.

I don’t want to say anything more about the plot as it’s definitely best discovered yourself. Just read it. Curl up in a duvet with a hot chocolate (and all the lights on) and freak yourself out this Halloween. You won’t regret it.

WILL It Stay a Classic
Oh, I really, really hope so. And I think so, too. Jackson is a staple in horror and psychological thrillers and ‘Hill House’ is often cited as one of the finest examples of the haunted house story.

WHO I’d Recommend it To
- People who want a genuine scare this Halloween.
- Fans of psychological thrillers.
- Everyone who is yet to discover the mastery of Shirley Jackson.


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