Reread Review ~ The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Cover via Goodreads

Four seekers have come to Hill House, a scary old abandoned mansion: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar who had been looking for an honestly haunted house all his life; Theodora, a lovely and lighthearted girl there mostly on a lark; Luke, the adventurous future heir of Hill House; and Eleanor, a strange and lonely woman well acquainted with poltergeists and other psychic phenomena. At first their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable noises and slamming doors. But Hill House is gathering up powers and will soon choose one of them to make its own. (via Goodreads)

My Background with The Haunting of Hill House

The first time I read The Haunting of Hill House was in college, probably around twenty years ago. It was definitely during my freshman or sophomore year because I was living on the 5th floor of Pound Hall in a room across from the door to the stairwell. Since I was on the 5th floor, the number of people who used the stairs was nominal, but I could absolutely hear my fellow students coming and going. The room was also supposedly haunted. I’d hear the noise of a ball bouncing and once, as several of my friends were in my room for movie night, we heard knocking from inside my closet. We all noted it with a “well, that’s weird,” but none of us decided to investigate further.

I first heard about The Haunting of Hill House through Stephen King’s Danse Macabre. Happily, UNL’s library had a copy. I checked it out and settled in to read in spare moments. Which is how I ended up reading it one quiet night. And I was at the part where Eleanor and Theo are being terrorized in their room. Bang, Bang, BANG! And a group of my floormates emptied from the stairwell in a cacophony of feet on stairs and doors slamming. I nearly jumped out of my skin.

Notes

I’ve probably read The Haunting of Hill House three or four times since then. I’ve owned two copies. The last time I read it was with an eye on how Jackson creates tension with repetition and rhythm. This time I read it just to see what I could see.

  • Dr. Montague mentions three “real” hauntings: Ballechin House, Borley Rectory, and Glamis Castle. These tales are reflected in what Dr. Montague expects and what his wife “finds” during her automatic writing. Obviously, Jackson knew some of these tales.
  • Dr. Montague reads Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded:

    It tells the story of a beautiful 15-year old maidservant named Pamela Andrews, whose country landowner master, Mr. B, makes unwanted advances towards her after the death of his mother, whose maid Pamela had been since age 12. Mr. B is infatuated with her, first by her looks and then her innocence and intelligence, but his high rank hinders him from proposing marriage. He abducts her, locks her up in one of his estates, and attempts to seduce and rape her. She rejects him continually, but starts to realize that she is falling in love with him. (via Wikipedia)

    Which kind of parallels Eleanor’s journey. Pamela is super boring.

  • Eleanor has a persecution complex, as do other characters in Jackson’s works. (Indeed, Shirley Jackson herself was fairly neurotic and reclusive.)
  • Eleanor is literally damned before she leaves town.
  • I forget how much of this novel takes place outside of the actual house. We have Eleanor leaving home and imagining three separate futures for herself before ever reaching Hill House. Many of the daytime incidents occur outside. It isn’t just the house that’s haunted.
  • I meant to take more notes, but by the last 50-75 pages of the book, I was totally sucked in.

Discussion

  1. Do you see Hill House’s horrors as being different for its male and female inhabitants? Any gender issues at play here? Considering Eleanor’s experience and Theo sort of being caught on the periphery of that, Dr. Montague and Luke get off relatively scot-free. The men sort of have to live with the responsibility of what happened at Hill House, Montague as the planner and Luke as the property owner.
  2. What’s up with the ghostly disturbances in this book? Eleanor’s blooming telekinetic abilities, real-deal ghosties, a big mess of unreliable characters? What say you? Personally, my debate has always been between Eleanor and the house. Aside from some distant narration at the beginning and the end, the novel is told through Eleanor’s eyes. Eleanor is pretty unbalanced, but I don’t think the house is innocent. Even if it’s not haunted, it’s unsettling and that could put a person on edge.
  3. The Haunting of Hill House was first published in 1959. What aspects of 1950s culture or society do you see the novel critiquing, criticizing, or commenting on? It’s really hard for me to decide on what 50s culture is. Any idea I have is based on popular culture which isn’t entirely real. On one hand, Eleanor seems to be the prototypical good girl. She’s innocent and has dutifully taken care of her mother for years. On the other hand, during those years, she’s missed the milestones that her sister has hit: husband, child, house. This would seem to open up the spinster spot for Eleanor, but she still wants better for herself. Unfortunately, that ambition isn’t rewarded. Far from it.
  4. Most Gothic novels are written in an ornate style, but Jackson chooses a simplistic style with a conversational word choice. What does it add to this harrowing tale? Do you find that it detracts in some places? I’m not sure I’ve considered The Haunting of Hill House to be a Gothic novel. There’s sort of a lack of Romanticism which is usually a hallmark of Gothic fiction. Although, it’s almost as though Eleanor *wants* to be in a Gothic novel. As for the language used, I have no problem with it at all.
  5. The Big One: what is it about Hill House that allows it to consume Eleanor’s sanity so efficiently? Or, what is it about Eleanor that allows Hill House to consume her sanity? Again, for me, it’s always been a combination of Eleanor and Hill House. She has a vague ambition, a fantasy of some other life she could live. She’s unloved and unappreciated and pretty much alone. She’d be the perfect target for a cult. Instead there’s Hill House with its own kind of twisted charisma ready to step in.


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Deal Me In, Week 39 ~ “The Hand Puppet”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Hand Puppet” by Joyce Carol Oates

Card picked: Eight of Clubs

From: David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible

Comments: I wasn’t going to claim Deal Me In stories for R.I.P. XI because they’re random picks from anthologies that aren’t necessarily going to guarantee the required “peril.” The last two weeks though? Tales of the Impossible has taken a dark turn. I’m not complaining.

How strangeness enters our lives.

Lorraine Lake’s life suddenly feels strange. Her daughter Tippi, an unpopular eleven-year-old, has secretly built a gray, malformed puppet and developed a coarse voice and personality to go with it. Lorraine had hoped Tippi would grow out of ventriloquism, but doesn’t feel like she should discourage her daughter’s interest, no matter how uncomfortable it makes Lorraine. Lorraine is keeping a secret of her own–an appointment with a gynecologist, a follow-up concerning a tumor in her uterus. She avoids telling anyone for fear of distressing anyone with something that might turn out to be nothing. During the pelvic examination, Lorraine no longer feels like herself. “Someone makes me speak, too–“

In many ways, this is a story about aging and the passage of time. At some point, we all look at our lives and think, “How the hell did I get HERE?” We all make concessions to what’s expected of us. Near the end of the story, after she is told that she will have to have a hysterectomy, Lorraine thinks back about the young athletic woman she used to be and hears in her head the voice of Tippi’s puppet, a harbinger of mortality if ever there was one.

About the Author: Joyce Carol Oates is one of those writers that has totally tricked the literary establishment into acknowledging “genre” stories. She is the author I want to point out to every English professor who is grumpy and disapproving of speculative fiction proclivities. National Book Award? She’s got one. Norman Mailer Prize? She’s got that too. And, oh yeah, a couple Bram Stoker Awards and a World Fantasy Award. (Among over a dozen other awards…)

R.I.P. IX Update #2 ~ Three Perilous Tales

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A quick round-up of three perilous tales that I recently read during my trip to Omaha a couple of weekends ago.

“A Burden that Burns” by Tim Prasil – The fifth of the free Vera Van Slyke mysteries, “The Burden that Burns” furthers the characters of Vera and Lida and is somewhat grander in scope than previous stories. It also introduces readers to the advertisement “Help for the Haunted,” the title of the forthcoming anthology. Vera and Lida investigate the property that repeatedly catches on fire. What has caused this pyromaniacal haunting? “A Burden that Burns” is currently still available at Tim Prasil’s site.

Witch's Bone“Between the Darkness and the Dawn” by Paula Cappa – A ghost hunter with a rather unique psychic sensitivity visits Nathanial Hawthorne’s Old Manse and witnesses the melancholic inspiration of one of the author’s tales. This story has a bit of a long wind up. I kind of felt like it could be part of a series of other stories. Still, a good read for R.I.P. “Between the Darkness and the Dawn” is available at Whistling Shade.

“The Witch’s Bone” by W. M. Hager & Cassidy Werner – “The Witch’s Bone” is a nicely constructed tale of witchery with, as far as I can tell, a unique element. This story is the telling of a tale and a lesson that a folklore skeptic cannot walk away from. Available at Amazon.

Review ~ The Broken Hours

This book was provided to me by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd via Edelweiss.

The Broken Hours by Jacqueline Baker

Cover via Goodreads

In the spring of 1936, horror writer H.P. Lovecraft is broke, living alone in a creaky old house, and deathly ill. At the edge of a nervous breakdown, he hires a personal assistant, Arthor Crandle. As the novel opens, Crandle arrives at Lovecraft’s home with no knowledge of the writer or his work but is soon drawn into his distinctly unnerving world: the malevolent presence that hovers on the landing; the ever-shining light from Lovecraft’s study, invisible from the street, and visions in the night of a white-clad girl in the walled garden. Add to this the arrival of a beautiful woman who may not be exactly what she seems, and Crandle is pulled deeper into the strange world of H.P. Lovecraft (a man known to Crandle only through letters, signed “Ech-Pi”), until Crandle begins to unravel the dark secret at its heart.

A brilliantly written, compelling and deeply creepy novel, The Broken Hours is an irresistible literary ghost story.(via Goodreads)

Lately, I’ve noticed a trend toward using speculative fiction authors as characters in novels. This isn’t a new phenomena, really, but it has struck me as more prevalent in the past year. I’ve reviewed two novels with Arthur Conan Doyle as a character and one with Shirley Jackson, all ARCs of works published this year. I’ve avoided many Edgar Allan Poe’s after realizing that he is my sacred cow. No author is going to write him in a way that will please me. Conversely, I have really no such opinion of H. P. Lovecraft. I’ve read a few of his stories and I’m peripherally aware of Cthulhu mythos, but I know little of the author as a man. (I’ve since read a bit about the controversy surrounding Lovecraft, his racism, and his likeness being used as the World Fantasy Award statue.) For me, knowing little about Lovecraft probably made The Broken Hours work better.

The Broken Hours is heavy on atmosphere. Baker starts us off in a cold winter rain storm. Any sun from there on seems purely coincidental. It is the atmosphere that powers this novel. This story is from Crandle’s first person POV. The narrative is dreamy and internal. All the dialogue is set off in italics rather than conventional punctuation, which keeps the story very much within his head. (A note about my ARC: The formatting of paragraphs and italics was occasionally messed up, causing me some problems. I’m sure this will be fixed in the final product.)  Crandle has his own secrets  and his past haunts him as much as the shadows in hallways or the little girl in the garden. There is a twist at the end of this novel that worked well enough, but did not surprise me.

Again, I don’t think familiarity with Lovecraft or his works are necessary in understanding this novel and ignorance may even be a help. There was one allusion, a beached giant squid, that seemed to have really no place in the book. Or maybe it is perfectly placed within the phantasmagoria. There are many aspect of The Broken Hours that don’t go very far, but I didn’t mind. It’s an enjoyable, creepy, seasonal read.

Publisher: HarperCollins Canada
Publication date: 9/23/14
Genre: Horror


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Deal Me In, Week 38 ~ “Just a Little Bug”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Just a Little Bug” by P.D. Cacek

Card picked: Six of Spades

From: David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible

Comments: Well, that was disturbing. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. P.D. Cacek is a Stoker award winning author. I’m not super familiar with her work, but I know the name and I’m sure I’ve read a few of her stories in the past.

Kate’s young daughter Carrie has cancer. When first undergoing diagnosis, the doctor comments that her sickness is probably due to “just a little bug.” To avoid scaring Carrie, the comment turns into a lie –“Don’t worry, we’ll swat that little bug.” In typical kid fashion, as she grows sicker, Carrie becomes more convinced that what’s growing in her chest is not a tumor, but an actual bug. Kate starts to wonder if Carrie’s not wrong.

I’m not sure that adding a horror element on top of something as bad as cancer in a child really works. There’s also a very questionable act on the part of Carrie’s doctor that destroyed the realism that Cacek had otherwise carefully crafted. Still, it was nice to encounter a horror story, a rarity within these Copperfield anthologies.

Review ~ The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

Cover via Goodreads

Joe Kavalier, a young Jewish artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdini-esque escape, has just smuggled himself out of Nazi-invaded Prague and landed in New York City. His Brooklyn cousin Sammy Clay is looking for a partner to create heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit America – the comic book. Drawing on their own fears and dreams, Kavalier and Clay create the Escapist, the Monitor, and Luna Moth, inspired by the beautiful Rosa Saks, who will become linked by powerful ties to both men. With exhilarating style and grace, Michael Chabon tells an unforgettable story about American romance and possibility. (via Goodreads)

I bought my copy of Kavalier & Clay in 2010-ish soon after reading Chabon’s excellent Sherlock Holmes tale The Final Solution. I remembered Kavalier & Clay being critically lauded, even though I don’t put a lot of stock in such things, but I didn’t really know what it was about. I had a notion that it involved the golden age of comics but was surprised when a recent friend told me that one of the main characters has some magic/escapist training. When I bought the book my interest in magic was at a low, but it seems that even when I read book summaries, I forget them before reading the book.

I like this book a lot. It may be that I’m not the best objective judge of Kavalier & Clay because there are so many individual parts that I was going to like.

  • Comics. I’m not a huge comics reader, but I find the history of comic books to be fascinating.  Checking back, I read David Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague two months before The Final Solution. It’s no wonder I then picked up Kavalier & Clay.
  • The Golem of Prague. Golems are one of my favorite folklore beings. I’m going to guess it’s because of the juxtaposition of religion with magic. That isn’t the sort of thing that exists in the version of Christianity that I grew up in. There is also a level of ambiguity to the basic golem story. The golem is a neutral being, a tool.  The Golem of Prague has more of a cameo in Kavalier & Clay and I need to think a little more on its reappearance at the end of the novel.
  • Escape-ology. I loved that Joe Kavalier had this skill set, and had reason for it, but it wasn’t his career. His life took a different turn (multiple turns), but there was still use for lock picking and being able to deal with close quarters. Chabon does a great job returning to imagery again and again. If Kavalier & Clay were made into a movie, it could be a lot of fun for a cinematographer.

This is also a WWII story, but from the American side. It’s devastating to Joe to not be able to help is family. In domino effect, Joe’s reactions affect everyone around him. How many of these stories played out during WWII that haven’t been told?

One thing that I disliked were the tragic love story parts. I know that they work for the story. I know that Chabon isn’t just torturing his characters. I know that bliss is the opposite of drama.  But, man, I hate it when you know that happiness is being set up for tragedy.

Despite my pet peeve, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is a great book. After 600+ pages, it ended too soon.

Publisher: August 25th 2001
Publication date: Picador USA
Genre: Literary, but genre

Finally started reading this book due to the Estella Project, but didn’t finish it in time.

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Deal Me In, Week 37 ~ “Indigo Moon”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Indigo Moon” by Janet Berliner

Card picked: Three of Spades

From: David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible, edited by David Copperfield & Janet Berliner

Review: This story has a 90s TV movie feel. I can imagine very big hair and shoulder pads. It’s a thriller that takes a supernatural turn, a very 80s-90s thing to do. And maybe this nostalgia is also because I associate movies and fiction about Carlos the Jackal with that time period. The Jackal is one of our main characters and the target of some transformation magic. My one objection is that Berliner draws some direct supernatural lines between Carlos the Jackal and Jack the Ripper. These are two very different types of killers. Perhaps some other terrorist would have been a better fit?

(Quick review this week. I am enjoying some crisp fall weather away from my computer.)

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