The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Horror fiction is at its best in its subtlety.  It’s not necessarily the immediate shock factor, but the psychological reverberations, the feelings of unsettlement, that last long after the final page.  Good horror writing will screw you up way past the actual reading.

Such is the case for The Haunting of Hill House, which Shirley Jackson wrote in the late 1950s.  This short novel laid the blueprint for much of horror authorship that came after.  It begins almost as a cliché – a group of people are invited to a deserted mansion to determine whether it is truly haunted.  Dr.  Montague spearheads the group – it is his belief that what they find will be beneficial to his future research and career. 

The people he invites are Theodora, a self-insured young lady, Luke, the future inheritor of the house, and Eleanor, a thirty-something timid woman.  The book is really Eleanor’s story – how she initially blossoms within the group and then becomes quickly consumed with the house and loses her mind.  Or does she?

It took me awhile to start the book, but once in,  Hill House wove its unnerving spell quickly enough.  The things we expect in horror fiction – the “in your face” blood and gore fear factor – are lacking here.  The book requires some imagination, but that’s fine.  It’s a quick read and a nice respite from what passes for horror today.

You’ll find The Haunting of Hill House here at the library in large print and in this anthology.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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