spooky book feature

Worth Revisiting – A Spooky Book From 1959

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ON OUR BOOKSHELVES

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NOVEL: The Haunting of Hill House

AUTHOR: Shirley Jackson

YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 1959

REVIEW:

There’s a chill in the air and the kids are planning their Halloween costumes. It’s time for spooky books. The Haunting of Hill House is a classic.

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I was familiar with Shirley Jackson through her short stories, especially the most famous one, “The Lottery,” from 1948. That one was introduced to me in, I think, eighth grade (what on earth were they thinking at my school?) and if you haven’t read it, do seek it out. I was quizzed on the assignment and got one question wrong, when my teacher asked if it were set in the past or the future. I went with future, not having the right vocabulary at that point for what were my true guesses: a post-apocalyptic time, or at present in an alternative history. She insisted that it took place in the past, but I knew quite well that the characters were Americans and that the particulars of the action were certainly not covered in our history lessons, so it was at the time, a bit of a puzzle for me. Eighth grade me was not alone in my puzzlement…when the story was first published in the New Yorker, the author received hundreds of letters in response, consisting, as she later described them, mainly of “bewilderment, speculation, and plain old-fashioned abuse.”

Since then, I’ve read many of Jackson’s stories, but until this week, had not read any of her longer works. I’m glad I finally did. Here’s how The Haunting of Hill House begins:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against the hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

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Shirley Jackson’s writing is terrifying, and the supernatural plays a part in this…but only a small part. Poltergeists, and stones falling like rain, and mysterious noises, and even insane houses are eerie and alarming. But the true horror in all of her fiction is simple: pointless violence, and general inhumanity. In particular, the domestic sphere is represented in utter hideousness: unloving families, the tedium and servitude of care-taking, mountains of dirty laundry, quiet desperation, and stifled rage.

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Our protagonist, Eleanor, a lonely and unstable young woman, hasn’t got a chance, and Shirley Jackson gives us both a haunted house story and an astute psychological study of a mind increasingly unhinged. It’s not entirely clear what is a manifestation of the paranormal and what is mental illness, here…just don’t read it when you’re home alone.

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RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 3 ½ Whistles

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HOW TO PURCHASE: Amazon

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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com.

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Lead-In Image Courtesy of Tetiana Volkonska / Shutterstock.com

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