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The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson


  03:05:00 am, by Airycat   , 810 words  
Categories: Book Reviews, Fiction

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson is nothing I expected it to be. I thought it would be an out and out horror story. I didn't expect to like it and I didn't really, but for totally different reasons. I can't exactly put my finger on any one reason why. I found it annoying right from the start. The constant word games became tiresome. Both Luke and Theo seemed rather cold to me. Dr. Montague was practically a non-entity. I never really cared about any of the characters. At the end, I can see that since it was mainly from Eleanor's point of view, that the disassociation makes sense, but as a reader I felt cheated.

That's one of the things I didn't like. It didn't start out from her point of view. It was the omnipotent narrator, at first, then we get pulled into her POV and never really get out. Considering where the story went, it should have been 100% her POV, in my opinion. It would have been stronger/clearer.

I don't know... I don't get that the author was trying to say anything with this, other than tell the story. I didn't know what was going on half the time. Maybe Jackson wanted the reader to be confused. I certainly was. Even within the framework of the story, some things still don't make sense to me.... like the problem with Theo's clothes. What was the point of that? What was wrong with the Dudleys? They seemed so wooden or robotic. I can see why they wouldn't want to spend time in a haunted house, but why so unfriendly? And then abruptly with Mrs. Montague, Mrs Dudley seemed more human than she had to anyone else. I don't see any point in that. Why did the cold spot go away for Mrs. Montague? I don't see where these things served the story. Everything in a story should mean something or serve to move the story along. None of these do either, that I can see.

Mrs. Montague's arrival served no purpose for me. If anything had actually been scary, maybe it would have served as a bit of comic relief, but as it is, she and Arthur were just more stereotype characters in a stereotype cast... Just that one teensy hint of reality with Mrs Dudley.

I find the premise that the house itself was insane to be somewhat ludicrous. I think houses can have human properties, but the house itself is an inanimate thing, so those properties must be reflections or echoes of the people who lived there -- or actual ghosts, if such exist. I don't think the house is what drove Eleanor over the edge (no pun intended). She was already beginning to lose it before she ever left her sister's and she felt that guilt about her mother's death. The situation probably had a strong hand in her madness. Everything was so superficial, but it's hard to say what was part of the story and where the story simply failed. In any case, nothing in the story, from beginning to end, made me believe the house was mad.

Maybe it was because it was from her POV, but no one seemed real to me. Everyone, even Eleanor, seemed to be a cardboard cutout stereotype. Eleanor was the most rounded character and she was still flat. The situations didn't seem real. The book was written in 1959, so I don't expect today's sensibilities, but it felt very Victorian and or/1930's most of the time. One of the caveats I hear all the time, as a writer, is "show, don't tell." I don't feel Jackson really did this, despite all the description. The phrase doesn't mean description, but rather drawing the reader into the world of the story. I didn't feel anything as I read. I wasn't drawn in.

I just finished reading To Kill A Mockingbird before getting to this book. It's possible that it was just the difference between the books that made this one so flat to me, but I don't think so. I often go from one kind of book to something very different without this sense of being cheated. In TKAM I was drawn in so much so that I thought about the story between readings. I was there. I was then. I knew the people. With HHH I never thought about it between readings, was hardly ever in the house and didn't know or care to know anyone there. I was always on the outside, slightly irritated with the sense that she was trying to create a mood and not doing it.

I finished the book because I hoped there would be some really interesting twist at the end to make up for the boring beginning. It didn't happen. Had it been any longer, I'm not sure I would have bothered finishing.

The Haunting of Hill House

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