The Shameful Book Club: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirely Jackson

Note: I read/listened to The Haunting of Hill House months ago because I couldn’t stay away, and because this one is ready on time and my June/August/Sept aren’t even close, I’m going to just post our of order. I think it’s safe to say that I have failed my own book challenge for the year.

Oh my god. Oh, my god. This woman is just…damn. I love her so much. This is not the first time I have read her for my Shameful Book Club. I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle in 2015 and it blew me away. Before TSBC, I had only read The Lottery. Welcome to high school. I also knew I should be ashamed of myself for this, because Jackson is everything I love in a writer: demented, tortured, eerie, subtle, full of magic, lover of murder…you get the picture. I knew I had to pick The Haunting of Hill House for this October’s creepy AF read. Perfect for Halloween!

Show of hands, how many of you were just as obsessed with the 1999 adaptation The Haunting as I was? If you came to my 12th birthday slumber party, your hand better be up! I hadn’t seen it in a while, so I ordered it and the ’63 adaptation from my library and refreshed my memory. Listen, some things should be left in the past. That ’99 version was probably one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen as an adult, and it’s so different from the book. Not in a good way. The ’63 version, however, was wonderful! I thought it was very true to the book, both in plot and spirit, and it stars one of my favs, Russ Tamblyn (Riff from West Side Story). It was so much fun that I later bought a copy.

I listened to the audiobook of The Haunting of Hill House via my Overdrive app (if you don’t have Overdrive or Libby GET IT!!), and while the reading was excellent, I think that next time I will read the physical copy. The reason for this is that it a very gentle story with subtle moments that can sometimes get lost when listening on the bus and such. And frankly, that is the strength of all of Jackson’s writing, the subtlety. I can’t remember where I read this, but someone made the comment that The Haunting of Hill House is kind of a basic haunted house story, and the plot isn’t anything really remarkable, but what Jackson does with it turns it into a slow-burn creep fest that sits in the pit of your stomach for days. The way to a millennial woman’s heart, am I right? Stay sexy…

In the book, Dr. Montague reaches out to people he feels have a certain connection or ability with the paranormal. he has heard of these folks and propositions each one to come stay with him in the notorious Hill House. Hill House has been empty for some time because of the tragic events that have unfolded there and the general hostile vibe it gives off. Only two women RSVP yes to the doctor, Eleanor Vance and Theodora, and they are joined by Luke Sanderson, who is set to inherit the house from his family. Most of the book is told through Eleanor’s experience, and almost as soon as she enters the grounds she begins to feel an intoxication that leaves her hazy and susceptible. This is the same kind of vibe that I felt while reading much of Jackson’s other work, and I know there is something to be said here about feminine power and such, but honestly I haven’t had the time or weed enough to suss it out further. If anyone wants to sit down and talk deeply about Jackson’s representation of women and female strength, I’m all for it!

I wrote more about how I felt about this book in an earlier post titled “Books That Have Hit Me Lately,” and I will copy those thoughts here, but go back and read that post because I put this book next to a couple of others that really resonated with me earlier this year:

Next was The Haunting of Hill House by Shirely Jackson. Interestingly, I saw a lot of this book in Carrie, which makes sense because King absolutely loved Hill House and Jackson. I read this as part of my Shameful Book Club, and it really blew me away. There is a deep thing happening in this book. To me it feels like corruption, the fight for autonomy, and a heavy dash of feminism all simmering together in a perfect stew of Jackson. Her writing never fails to enthrall me. In Hill House, two women have a very interesting relationship to each other, the men in the house, and the house itself. The main character, Eleanor, becomes intoxicated by the house and in the end it appears to conquer her (trying not to be spoilery here). Before coming to the house, Eleanor’s entire life was devoted to nursing her sick mother. After her mother died, Eleanor was determined to find her place in the world and have that place be exclusively hers — something we all take for granted. Like Carrie, she has an awakening and a new understanding of who she is, how she relates to the world, and what she wants out of it. But unfortunately, also like Carrie, she is denied this. A lot of how I felt about this book and Eleanor was the same as how I felt when I read The Yellow Wallpaper. Claustrophobia, gaslighting, frustration, helplessness, isolation, frantic empowerment. I guess I could call it, tongue in my cheek, weird women shit. I made a connection between various interests of mine during the listening of this book. They were (in no particular order) women’s empowerment, feminism, and spiritualism. It is a very interesting topic, if any of you would like to dive into it. During the rise of spiritualism, women (who were considered to have a deeper and stronger connection to the spirit world) saw an increase in power and autonomy. This also began right around the American and British Suffrage movements, and the two have been linked. Eleanor has an incredibly strong spiritual and psychic connection with the house, which just made all of these things click for me. I would love to read a full feminist breakdown of this book, so if any of you know of one PLEASE send it along!

9780143122357_p0_v1_s260x420This book is such a classic that I can point to its influence in later pop-horror entertainment. Whether these references to Jackson’s work were deliberate or not, I could not help but think of them while listening to The Haunting of Hill House. Part of the plot of the book is that these people are contacted by Dr. Montague because of their connection to the paranormal. Each seems to have some kind of ability or abnormality that qualifies them. Eleanor once caused rocks to fall on and in her home as a child. Sound familiar? I mentioned Stephen King’s Carrie above, and I could not ignore this more obvious similarity between Eleanor and Carrie. But that is not the only place I see her influence on King (his admiration for her and her work is well documented). In Pet Sematary, Rachel Creed had a horrific experience watching her older sister die of spinal meningitis as a child. She describes the horrible mundane details of caring for a sick person in the house: the bitterness and growing horror that takes over normal living. This really reminded me of Eleanor’s experience with her own sick mother and how those details played into her haunting experiences in the house. Another thing that jumped out at me was how similar I found Mrs. Montague and her friend Arthur, the incredibly crass amateur ghost hunters and spiritualists, to Delia Deetz and her designer Otho from Beetlejuice! It was uncanny how their attitude and cadence was almost identical. SO much fun!

28789677While I love the ending of the book (no spoilers, promise) and think it was perfect, I do wish we got more information about Eleanor. She is always thinking about and wrestling with what seems to be a dark past, but we don’t get many details about that. We know she took care of her mother and feels somewhat responsible for her death, but we also know that she has a complicated relationship with that time in her life. We don’t get many reasons why. I love the mystery, and I think Eleanor’s character “works” because of that mystery, but I’m a curious bitch and I want to know! It’s like when people just hint at some drama on Facebook and you want to comment, “JUST GIVE US THE DETAILS ALREADY!!”

If you have read or are reading The Haunting of Hill House, let’s chat! And if you haven’t read the phenomenal biography by Ruth Franklin, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, I highly recommend it! What are you all reading for Halloween?

Ok, roll call: There are two months left of 2017 and I have 4.5 books left to go. Do you think I can do it? Sadly, I have little faith in myself, but I will focus all of my energy to completing my own reading challenge! I will be posting soon about a new philosophy that I want to adapt for my reading habits next year, and prioritizing this reading challenge over others is part of it. If I don’t finish my books, I will have to tack them on to next year! Motivation to hustle up.

 

 

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