A “10 sentences or less” busting piece.
Before I was 10 we moved to a place on the Mediterranean into a huge house that came with my Dad’s job at the time. Until then my younger sister and I had always shared a bedroom, but this new place was large enough for us to have our own rooms at the top of the house in the attic space where there was also a bathroom, another spare bedroom and access to our 2 roof terraces. Not long after we moved in, my sister complained of not being happy in her room. Then she talked of waking in the night with someone holding her hand, but there was never anyone there. This freaked us both out enough for us to move back downstairs and share a room next to our brother. Neither of us liked going back up there after that. I was recently reminded of this episode in my childhood when reading Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. A similar late night hand-holding experience affects one of the main characters when she is feeling particularly vulnerable.
Generally speaking I don’t read creepy books, I’m too easily spooked and I’ll be honest, this story made me feel uneasy at times. The titular house is unpleasant and designed to confuse, the characters are susceptible to suggestion and disturbance of mind creating an shared experience where both character and reader live through the nightly hauntings and horrors served up by this place. It’s this psychological element that makes the tale of Dr. Montague and his guests at Hill House, gathered there to investigate and make sense of the other-worldly goings on, all the more disturbing and chilling. What Jackson achieves with her writing is a feeling of suspense built on the fear and unease her characters sense from the house. Fragile Theodora seems particularly prone to these perceptions of something ghostly. The eventual suspicion and distrust that builds between the characters adds to the tension.
This story is similar in feel and sentiment to books by Susan Hill. Both women are masters at writing about the supernatural in an unsettling, non-violent, non-gory way, leaving the reader to wonder and marvel at how the power of suggestion can unhinge the mind to such an extent. Reading this book has finally made me realise, the hand of my sister’s experience was probably a figment of her dreams…or was it??
4 thoughts on “The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson”
That’s exactly why I found this more unsettling than the gorier/more over-the-top horror one often gets in mainstream cinema. Your sister’s experience sounds distinctly creepy, and while we might be able to say that she presumably dreamt/imagined it that’s easy to say now in daylight and comfort. Probably a bit harder as a child in the dark in an unfamiliar place.
Hill House captures that fear I think doesn’t it? A fear that on waking we might be able to rationalise, but that in the night seems all too real.
I have another Shirley Jackson (We Have Always Lived in the Castle) just waiting to be read – so if I like it, this could next.
If The Woman In Black is anything to go by, then I need to read this with the lights on! Bronte
I LOVE this book! Scared me so much when I read it!