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Reclusive Duck Woman. Artist. Writer. GR Refugee.

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Gothic Thriller at its Best

The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson, Laura Miller

First published in 1959, this is a classic gothic story. It is brilliantly written. Jackson's writing is so good that I find myself re-reading sentences out aloud, slowly, relishing the cadence and flow. The passages are beautifully descriptive, yet no words are wasted. Shirley Jackson understands madness, and she portrays it chillingly well. She plays mind games with the reader, beginning subtly, escalating as the novel progresses, and leaving the reader foundering, unsure of what is real, and what is not. 

The house, itself, is described wonderfully. Right from the opening sentences we know it as a presence: "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 its 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."

The sensation of 'wrongness' within the house, is built up through references to it as an entity: "I am like a small creature swallowed whole by a monster, she thought, and the monster feels my tiny little movements inside." Descriptions of the inner rooms--rooms without windows--made me claustrophobic. So too, the idea that all the angles of the house were built purposely wrong: physically affecting the sense of balance. Visitors to Hill House must adjust to the wrongness. What makes the house truly scary, is that as an entity, you can sense its madness. Unlike a mere haunted house, the malevolence is embodied within the building. This is not a house than can be exorcised of its demons, as Jackson says: Hill House, not sane. 

The changes in the main characters, as they adjust to the madness that is Hill House, crept up on me, culminating in stunned moments. Did I just read that? Again Jackson plays with the reader's mind, confusing, then altering, their perceptions. So skillfully done. This is the sort of book you could write a great thesis on. Jackson was just so clever. I am re-reading passages already. 

This is a gothic thriller, not a horror story. It's not a splatter and gore book. It will probably disappoint those looking for more physical manifestations.

The Haunting of Hill House is atmospheric, creepy and surreal, a wtf mind-trip of the most enjoyable kind.