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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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Review ~ The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

In The Case-book of Sherlock Holmes, you can read the final twelve stories that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about his brilliant detective.

It is perhaps the most unusual and certainly the darkest collection that he penned. Treachery, mutilation, and the terrible consequences of infidelity are just some of the themes explored in this collection, along with atmospheric touches of the gothic involving a blood-sucking vampire, crypts at midnight, and strange bones in a furnace.

The challenging and often bizarre tales reflect the mood of the 1920s when they were written. Amid this grey miasma of crime stands the shining figure of Sherlock Holmes who is there to unravel even the most baffling mystery. (via Goodreads)

I decided to start my rereading of the Holmes canon (before I read A Study in Scarlet a few weeks back) with the collection I’m least familiar: The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes. There might be good reason for my lack of familiarity. While I checked out ALL THE HOLMES from the public library when I was about ten, my rereads have been based on cheap editions (like Dover’s $1 paperbacks) or “collectors” editions (like the gilt-edged Franklin Mint books). Both of these rely on public domain to keep costs down. In the US, the copyright for stories included in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes does not end until 2016-2023, nearly 100 years after their initial publication. Ebooks has relieved this problem somewhat. There have been a couple free/cheap licensed-by-the-estate complete Holmes editions online, discovered with a little searching.

In all, yes, an odd assortment of tales. The tones vary. The POVs vary. In a couple cases, there is some question as to whether Doyle is the author of a specific story. Though not a Doyle scholar, I offer this view: Doyle had been writing Holmes stories on and off for 40 years (while writing novels and a slew of short stories). Wouldn’t you expect an author to maybe play around with the characters and the story at year 30+? Below are a few notes I took while reading. Your mileage may vary.

“The Adventure of the Illustrious Client” – This would be the “terrible consequences of infidelity” tale. Worth noting: Sebastian Moran is alluded to as still alive.  Has there been any further adventures with Shinwell (Porky) Johnson? Also, Holmes gets beaten to a pulp and admits to believing that women are unfathomable.  Watched the Jeremy Brett version of this story. The Baron is neither handsome nor sinister. Kitty’s actions are given a more solid reason and the scene in which Holmes retrieves the Baron’s diary is more chilling. (Read 12/29/2012)

“The Adventure of the Blanche Soldier” – Holmes narrates. An adventure that happens while Watson is off being selfishly married. Rather gothic in its sensibilities; strange house, strange people. Another old friend helps with the investigation, unnamed. Holmes is well-connected by this point in his career. (Read 01/03/13)

“The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” – Includes Billy the page. Have we met Billy before? Third person POV. The only time that the POV was noticeably different from the Watson-first-person POV is when Watson is in the room. It’s rather jarring to not have Watson speak about himself. The story includes quite a bit of Watson-not-present action that would be clumsy to retell as is the usual habit of relaying Watson-not-present action. Unfortunately, this tale is dependent on the utter incompetence of its villains. (Read 01/06/13)

“The Adventure of the Three Gables” – Starts off with a “comic interlude” featuring a negro. Oh, Mr. Doyle. You were a man of your time… Another compatriot mentioned, Langdale Pike, a society writer. The Granada episode pads out this rather thin story with an exchange between Holmes and Pike, and a fist fight between Watson and the black pugilist (of course, he’s a pugilist). Spoiler for the TV episode, Watson loses. (Read 01/14/13)

“The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire” – Pretty simple case. I am amused by this quote in light of Doyle’s investigations into spiritualism: “The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply.”  Also puts in mind Shakespeare’s quote: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Read 01/20/13)

“The Adventure of the Three Garridebs” – Speaking of Shakespeare, the next tale begins, “It may have been a comedy, or it may have been a tragedy.” (The two stories follow one another in most collections of these tales.) Use of telephone! (Read 01/20/13)

“The Problem of Thor Bridge” – Another hot-blooded South American woman. We have some practical experimentation in this one. (Read 01/24/13)

“The Adventure of the Creeping Man” – Veers slightly into the realm of science fiction, using impossible science. Could be a weird companion piece to Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” A great mini-anthology would be those two stories and Ysabeau Wilce’s “Hand in Glove.” (Read 01/30/13)

“The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane” – This it the other story told in first person from Holmes’ point of view. I don’t ever remember reading this story before (though I probably have), but manged to figure out what had happened from the start. (Read 02/07/13)

“The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger” – Among lost adventures: the politician, the lighthouse and the trained cormorant. Doyle was just screwing with his readers at this point, wasn’t he? Again, a Gothic sensibility, the woman with he mutilated, veiled face. And the circus! But this is no case at all, just a tale. It does show Holmes to have some sympathy. (Read 02/17/13)

“The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place” – Watson has a gambling problem? This case is strangely told with the client starting with the least important facts first. Not a great way to woo a reader into the story. The last Holmes story to be written, though not the last in the American edition of Case-book. It’s a fairly good tale that probably could have been better told. The Granada Television adaptation features a young Jude Law. (Read 02/18/13)

“The Adventure of the Retired Colourman” – Holmes is busy with the case of two Coptic patriarchs, so Watson is on the case. (Poor Watson.) Do previous collections have so many mentions of other cases? I don’t recall. Much telephone use. Mr. Barker, Holmes’s rival: “My hated rival upon the Surrey Shore.” (Has there been any Mr. Barker fiction? Surely.)

Genre: Mystery
Why did I choose to read this book? I’m rereading Holmes and decided to start with the stories I’m least familiar with.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes
Craft Lessons: Doyle excels at crisp, untagged dialogue. Conversations aren’t entirely reactive. Holmes drives them.
Format: Kindle eText
Procurement: Kindle store

Book #29

The Mist by Stephen King

This is a reread and it feels like is wasn’t long ago that I read this novella and watched the movie for the first time. Looking at my old blog’s archive, I see that I finished The Mist in May of 2008, over four years ago.

When I read it the first time, I had just watched the movie. The movie (2007, directed by Frank Darabont) has one of the  most devastating endings in the history of film (though manages to be less depressing than the ending of Mystic River (2007)). The ending is different from the book, but one that Stephen King highly approves of. When I read it the first time, I was of the opinion that the movie was better, tighter. The movie ending is better in many ways, but I’ve changed my mind otherwise.

I’m not often scared while I’m reading. I read a good amount of horror, but it doesn’t really make me nervous me. A couple times while reading The Mist, I got a little jumpy. And this is a reread. I know what’s going to happen…except for one of the parts that I forgot about. I forgot about the trip to the pharmacy. I forgot that in the movie, which I also rewatched for the first time in four years, it’s an overdone scene. In the book, King plays it just right. We see what the characters see and realize *what* they’re seeing just a moment before they do. It’s a hard thing to pull off when writing. I don’t know whether I didn’t appreciated the difficulty before, or if the difference was that in 2008 I watched the movie first then read the book. This time, I read first.

I’m not a big Stephen King fan, but this ranks as one of my favorites of his works.

Format: Adobe Digital Edition
Procurement: Greater Phoenix Digital Library

R.I.P. VII

Book #17

From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury

So, I’ve been combing through my old LiveJournal entries for book notes/reviews to import into this blog* and I came across this from July 22, 2002:

…finished reading A Clash of Kings. Now that I’ve finished Kings, I need a rest from the intensity of that story. I’m reading From the Dust Returned now. Not the Bradbury that I bought Friday, but a few months ago. A definite change of pace.

Two days later:

Finished From the Dust Returned. A yummy little morsel it was. Creepy in that delicious Halloween way. And it has left me wanting more. More reading that is. I’m in a reading jag. Devouring books.

I seem to be subconsciously reliving the summer of 2002…

I agree with my past self. From the Dust Returned is a yummy morsel. Not really Bradbury at his best, but it’s full of autumnal creepiness which is how I best like Ray Bradbury. From the Dust Returned goes around this the suffix “A Novel” on its front cover. In this case, I can understand why. Bradbury is fairly well known for his short stories and From the Dust Returned reads more like a collection of somewhat related stories and vignettes than a true narratively structured novel. Really, I think it would have worked better if Bradbury hadn’t worried about providing some of this novel’s connective tissues.

The writing is, of course, gorgeous. Bradbury strings words together with a daring and grace that I envy and could never, never pull off.

*If I could go back in time and tell myself one thing it would be, “Tags are not some passing fad. Tag things!”

Format: Hardback
Procurement: Bought new in 2001, First Edition
Bookmark: The dust cover.

Book # 16

A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

As I said to quite a few people while reading this book, Martin lulls you with a thousand tiny little details and then STUFF HAPPENS! That makes for an interesting reading experience if you make it through the heraldry and genealogy.

One thing that I really like about Martin is his use of oblique storytelling. Not every battle and council meeting is shown. Instead, Martin opts for sometimes showing the aftermath only, using his characters to relate what happened, usually in conversations with other characters. This is a good thing for the TV show. Battles are expensive to film. (Unfortunately, I think the HBO show has resorted to conveying information from character to character before, during, and/or after a sex act…)

Unfortunately, I remember why I kinda lost interest in the series during the third book. I’m not quite a fan of where many of the characters ended up at the end of A Clash of Kings. I’m going to continue reading the series, but we’ll see if A Storm of Swords can pull me along this time and toss me into A Feast of Crows.

Notes on A Game of Thrones

Format: Hardback
Procurement: Purchased, most likely, at Bookmans
Bookmark: “Go on Adventures” corner bookmark that I made from an old birthday card.

Book #19

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

This is a re-read. I meant to get through a slew of re-reads this year and haven’t. I decided to start a re-read of Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series for a couple of reasons.

One, I had bought A Feast for Crows (book 4 of the series) when it came out and never got around to reading it. It’s not that I decided I didn’t want to read it, it’s just that other books got in the way. I’m a slow reader (I think I’ve mentioned) and while I don’t have a terribly short attention span, I find it difficult to spend thousands of pages in a story, go away from it for several years, and then step back in. All while other stories are waiting to be read.

Two, the TV show. I have a fascination for retellings. Translations, cover songs, books to movies (and movies to books) are all interesting to me. What gets kept? What gets truncated or removed? How does form or language affect the telling or even the story itself? Interesting stuff for a writer. A Game of Thrones, the TV series, is a good adaptation. It streamlines the story, and it is a story (like The Lord of the Rings) that needs streamlining. Gone are the paragraphs describing the details of everyone’s heraldry. Gone are the lineages. Do these things add to the story? Well, yes. They add detail and scope to the world. Do they hinder the narrative? Well, yes. Sometimes in Martin’s writing it’s hard to pick out the important details. In a visual adaptation, it only takes a few minutes to show these things. As viewers we are left with a vivid world where only the important people get close-ups.

Three, Tor.com is doing a read-through. Actually, Leigh Butler isn’t finished with A Game of Thrones, but I went ahead a week ago and finished on my own. Even if I don’t read Bulter’s Eep!-and-Sqee! review of chapters, the read-through keeps me reading steadily. Not the fastest way to read books, but I’m not the fastest reader (as I think I’ve mentioned).

In all, the book isn’t quite as good as I remembered. Some of the characters are a tad bit caricature. Some of the institutions are a little less than realistic. There are lots of names and lots of details and occasionally these detract from the story. Still, I’ll dive into A Clash of Kings with a sense of enjoyment when the time comes.

Book #10

Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg

I was first introduced to Natalie Goldberg and the concept of free writing during my first semester of college. That first composition class was a revelation to me. It was exactly what I needed at that time in my life: an affirmation that this writing thing wasn’t completely crazy. Or rather, it was crazy, but I wasn’t alone in it. *I* could be a writer. Even if I was a biology major at the time, I was a writer.

That was 18 years ago.

Being a writer is a belief. Any belief is subject to doubts. I need reaffirmations. Reading and re-reading books like Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind give me assurance, even more than so than all the writers I know online.

Of course, the weight of 18 years of my experiences as a writer color my reaction to this book. I believe that writing is work, hard work, that can be broken down to a process. So, some of Goldberg’s fuzzy spiritual aspects leave me a bit cool. Truly, any advice about writing only works for some of the writers some of the time. But at its core, Goldberg’s philosophy is this: Shut up and write.

And that’s what I need now.

(Read this book as a part of #ToBeReMo and Read Me Baby, One More Time. I also mentioned Wild Mind over at my LJ.)