Shirley Jackson's classic horror novel, The Haunting of Hill House, is one I'd somehow overlooked until now. Published in the '50s, it's been an influence on several authors working in the horror and supernatural genres - authors such as Stephen King and Richard Matheson. Often cited as one of the greatest works of fright, I knew I eventually had to read it. And that time has come.
From the start, I knew I was in for a treat - the writing is sublime, even from the first line:
"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."
With that one sentence the reader is pulled into one of Shirley Jackson's most famous creations: Hill House.
The novel focuses on four main characters, all adults staying at the supposedly haunted house for a period of three months. Those characters are Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for evidence of psychic phenomena in the house; Theodora, a lighthearted and cheerful young woman; Eleanor, a lonely and paranoid woman looking for something worth living for; and Luke, the adventurous future heir of Hill House. Together these four stay in the house and keep each other company, all while looking for any signs of supernatural happenings in the old house - especially at night.
Let it be known that there aren't many "gotcha!" scary moments. This novel is quite atmospheric, relying mostly on the house itself to supply the creeps. By today's standards it's not very attention-grabbing or outright scary, but that isn't the point. This is a book that is content to sit back and be quiet, all while slowly ensnaring the reader into its clutches. It gets under the skin.
Before reading this book I had read several of Shirley Jackson's short stories, but this was the first novel I read by the acclaimed author. I wasn't disappointed. It's a very solid, chilly read that is quite fitting for the autumn months. I thought it dragged a bit in the latter half, but that is the only thing worth complaining about. This is a novel well worth being discussed and remembered, a truly timeless tale of an old house that sits and waits for those who choose to explore it. 4/5