The Haunting of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson is our Halloween read. She’s renowned as Queen of Horror, and this was recommended to me as a classic spooky read. I first encountered her work (as many of you have, I’m sure) in high school, where we read The Lottery.
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality”
I knew I would like this as soon as I read that opening line! And I was right (it’s the worst when a book starts off well but then goes downhill). It’s a short fun read that’s creepy but not too scary (great for all those with weak stomachs), perfect for the month of October. The characters were whimsical, the story moved swiftly and the whole thing I felt was over very quickly. I didn’t feel any lagging or boring parts. Also it’s more psychological thriller than horror in my opinion.
Even though this is a ghost story it’s also about finding one’s self, about mental health and about loving yourself and how important that is. The late-bloomer, single young female as the protagonist won me over.
“Each year, one summer morning, the warm wind would come down the city street where she walked and she would be touched with the little cold thought: I have let more time go by”
I relate so much to the protagonist. This quote is is how I feel! Since I started work, each summer takes me by surprise and it’s been one year, then two and now three and I feel like I’ve done nothing with these years and they’ve just trickled listlessly past. This is compared to years before when a year could mark a new milestone – high school, university, master’s.. Now nothing ear-marks each bland year, nothing breaks up the monotony, other than the change in seasons.
Maybe I’m just projecting, but Eleanor’s thirst is real. She’s a lonely spinster with a wild imagination cultivated by being repressed for so long and underestimated by her sister and mother. She’s awkward and dreams of ‘devilishly handsome smugglers’ and I totally vibe with her.
I also love the little drops of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night scattered throughout. I had to Google to find out where the familiar phrases were coming from. I love a story that rewards my Google searches (look up Don Juan when you get to this reference in the book, it adds a whole layer).
At one point she says “at the back of her mind the thoroughly female conviction that the best way to soothe a troubled mind is to put on comfortable shoes.” Come on, how relatable is this? Slipping off your stilettos and donning those fuzzy furry slippers.
“What do you want to know about me, for instance?” He laughed. She thought, But why not ask what he wants to know about me; he is so extremely vain—and laughed in turn and said, “What can I ever know about you, beyond what I see?” See was the least of the words she might have chosen, but the safest. Tell me something that only I will ever know, was perhaps what she wanted to ask him, or, What will you give me to remember you by?—or, even, Nothing of the least importance has ever belonged to me; can you help?”
I don’t know why, but this is one of the most moving things I’ve ever read. Ive often tried to ask a similar thing, to try and get to know people and not have the right words to ask. The loneliness in this passage just overwhelmed me.
Look who they cast as Luke in the upcoming Netflix adaptation! Totally wish I pictured him like this while reading the book.
Also, you can read it online for free.