Fantastically Realistic: Thoughts on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House

Welcome back to my third Halloween-themed post!

The Haunting of Hill House
By Shirley Jackson

Until last October, my only experience with Shirley Jackson had been listening to The Lottery what felt like a few dozen times in high school. While enjoyable, it wasn’t the same as experiencing her first hand, so I selected We Have Always Lived in the Castle as part of last year’s Halloween series. (Read my review here.) After a positive experience last year, I chose The Haunting of Hill House this year.

Thoughts

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 my 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.

With The Haunting of Hill House, Jackson brought her patented almost-normal-but-still-not-quite-right characters in a realistic setting with paranormal or occult occurrences and influences. Like We Have Always Lived in the Castle’s Merricat Blackwood, Eleanor Vance, who would become a very short-term resident of Hill House, exhibits stunted emotions and thought processes and a paranoid affect. We experience some of her disturbing and insecure inner monologue, which still doesn’t even foreshadow how the book would end.

Perhaps it has us now, this house, perhaps it will not let us go.

Overall, I found The Haunting of Hill House to be an excellent Halloween read. Like my other top-choice Halloween reads, this book isn’t terrifying, but it presents just enough suspense and just enough of the paranormal that it kept my interest and maintained a gradually building sense of dread.

Rating

Writing 4 out of 5 stars

I love Jackson’s complex sentences and how she successfully pairs them with simple sentences that pack a strong punch. Overall, though, while technically strong, there were parts of her writing and the story that didn’t quite click for me.

Character Development  5 out of 5 stars

Despite the brief week they spent together, Jackson’s characters developed a unique relationship. Their unusual dialogue added to the overall impact of the book—it almost seemed that as a reader I was somehow a member of the group in Hill House due to an initiation of sorts with the dialogue.

Plot Structure 5 out of 5 stars

While the book only spanned one week of time, it seemed that the group had been at Hill House for much longer—quite possibly what Jackson wanted the reader to feel. The plot was well structured; however, it seemed to squeeze the main action points too close to the end of the book. They almost felt rushed.

Storytelling 4 out of 5 stars

Again, Jackson tells a fantastic, suspenseful tale using her trademark realistic setting, slightly offbeat if not cognitively and emotionally stunted characters.

Total  4.5 out of 5 stars

Have you read The Haunting of Hill House? What did you think?

Weekly Reads: 10.27.14

It’s Halloween week, and I’m reading

The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House
By Shirley Jackson

Last year I read and enjoyed Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the CastleI was excited to check one more of Jackson’s uniquely unusual books off my to read list this year. I’m halfway through (hoping to finish by Thursday), and so far it’s holding up to my expectations. I’m quite excited to finish and share my thoughts with you!

If you’re interested in my thoughts as I read the book, check out my new Tumblr Totally Contains Spoilers.

What are you reading this week? I hope you have a great reading week!

**Linked up with Book Journey**

Richly Suspenseful: Thoughts on Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger

Welcome back to my second Halloween-themed post!

Halloween 2013 The 1000th Voice Blog

With her new book The Paying Guests receiving acclaim by reviewers, it seemed fortuitous that I had just picked up one of Sarah Waters’ previous books to feature in my Halloween series. Like The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon, I discovered The Little Stranger using my library’s new-to-me online recommendation feature. Again, like The Winter People, it was recommended to me because of my interest in The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.

In elegant, mannered prose, the narrators of these psychologically suspenseful ghost stories describe their encounters with possible supernatural phenomena at declining English country estates. Both leisurely paced yet intricately plotted novels boast an atmospheric historical setting imbued with menace.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters: A Review at The 1000th Voice

The Little Stranger
By Sarah Waters

In Waters’ The Little Stranger, British country doctor Faraday recounts the downfall of the Ayres family and Hundreds Hall in the years between the wars.

Thoughts

As I read The Little Stranger, I wasn’t sure if it would fit the bill for a Halloween read, but about halfway through, I determined that it fit the type of suspenseful gothic novels I enjoy reading, particularly this time of year.

George & Amal's country manor

George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin purchased this 17th-century English manor shortly after their wedding.
via

An English country estate may be one of the most romantic places in the world, but it’s certainly also one of the creepiest. Waters has skillfully created the setting at Hundreds Hall and the surrounding country side between the great wars. England, along with its young men and their families, are still trying to recover or just trying to survive in the new world created in those years leading up to WWII.

And somehow the loss of her made me want her, plainly and physically, more than the nearness of her had done: I stepped to the door and stood against it, frustrated, willing her to return.

I found this novel hard to put down. If it weren’t, there’s no way I would have finished it with a newborn at home. The pacing of the story and the writing are so superb I just craved the next sentence and the next little turn in the book. The richly detailed Hundreds Hall, which served as the main setting, was so realistic I felt as if I were walking down its dark, dusty halls and into its stale, closed-off rooms.

In any other setting, such a story would have struck me as farcical. But the Hall, by now, had a disconcertingly palpable air of stress and tension: the women in it were tired and nervous, and I could see that Mrs. Bazely’s fear, at least, was very real. When she’d finished speaking, I left her side, and went across the kitchen to look at the speaking-tube myself. Lifting the tea-cloth I found a bland ivory cup and whistle, fixed to the wall at head height on a shallow wooden mount. A less sinister looking thing it would have been hard to imagine—and yet, when I thought of the disquiet it had managed to inspire, the very quaintness of the object before me began to seem slightly grotesque. I was reminded uneasily of Roderick. I remembered those ‘ordinary things’—the collar, the cufflinks, the shaving mirror—which had seemed, in his delusion, to come to crafty, malevolent life.

Rating

Writing 5 out of 5 stars

Waters is known for writing richly detailed stories, and this is no exception. The setting is realistic and the suspense builds palpably.

Character Development  5 out of 5 stars

Narrators are generally not considered reliable, but, in using Faraday to tell the entire story, Waters developed a number of strong characters.

Plot Structure 5 out of 5 stars

Waters has written a measured, successfully-plotted story.

Storytelling 5 out of 5 stars

With a general sense of suspense and dread building throughout, Waters has told a very successful story with The Little Stranger. 

Total 5 out of 5 stars

I enthusiastically endorse reading The Little Stranger no matter what time of year it is!

Have you read any of Waters’ novels? What did you think?

A Review of Jennifer McMahon’s The Winter People

Halloween 2013 The 1000th Voice Blog

Today kicks off two weeks of reviews of gothic horror, suspense and otherwise creepy reads for my Halloween 2014 series.

The Winter People
By Jennifer McMahon

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a fan of horror fiction that tends towards torture porn. Being extremely terrified just isn’t something I enjoy. Instead, I gravitate more towards gothic horror or suspenseful or generally creepy books. Finding these books has been somewhat difficult. That is, until I looked up Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black on my library’s website and found the recommendations section. Jennifer McMahon’s The Winter People was recommended because:

In the best of the gothic tradition, these shivery ghost stories feature creepy locations, dark family secrets, and mysteries that are better left unsolved. Both novels are literary with an oppressive atmosphere and a slowly building sense of dread.

A literary ghost story with a general or slowly building sense of dread is an excellent description of the type of book I’m looking for each Halloween!

Review

In this classic, creepy ghost story, McMahon creates a sense of dread in a realistic New England setting. Using the small, remote town of West Hall, Vermont, McMahon winds a tail that begins in the early 1900s and continues into present day as a young woman digs into her parents’ past and learns of their dark secrets and those of her town.

The Winter People really had the perfect amount of scary parts to fit what I was looking for. An historic farm house serves as the setting for a large portion of the story, from the early 1900s to the present day.

Rating

Writing 5 out of 5 stars

McMahon uses clear, concise language to weave her tale.

Character Development  5 out of 5 stars

As the story progresses, McMahon develops her characters into realistic people with their own unique personalities.

Plot Structure 5 out of 5 stars

McMahon moves the plot forward at a comfortable pace, allowing the reader to settle in and enjoy her writing.

Storytelling 5 out of 5 stars

McMahon successfully mixed two story lines together to create one rich story.

Total 5 out of 5 stars

Have you read The Winter People? What did you think?

Weekly Reads: 10.6.14

Today, I’m halfway through my second Halloween reads bookmaybe. I’m reading

The Little Strangers by Sarah Waters

The Little Stranger

By Sarah Waters

It came up as a recommendation on my library’s website as I was looking at Susan Hill’s Woman in Black.  The book is great so far. There’s a slight hint of madness and possible haunting, but I’m not sure it fits the bill for a Halloween read yet.

If you’re interested in my thoughts as I read the book, check out my new Tumblr Totally Contains Spoilers.

What are you reading this week?

**Linked up with Book Journey**

A Little Announcement

If you haven’t noticed, it’s been quite dark around here lately and for good reason.

Claire & ChristianChristian was born September 7th. We’re all very happy and in love, but so very tired. I’ve hardly read a page since September 6th.

Next week I’ll begin my 2014 Halloween Reads series. I have a number of creepy, gothic books on tap. Now, I just need to get to reading them!

I hope you have a wonderful weekend and a chance to get out to see the fall colors (depending on where you live)!

 

What I’m Into | 8.2014

Well, August sure seemed to fly by. We visited the Renaissance Fair for the first time and had a blast. Lots of fun things filled the month, including these books and shows.

Read & Reading

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

My commute was made far less annoying by listening to The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett and Our Lady of the Forest by David Guterson. August, or rather just Labor Day weekend, provided some good reading for me. I finished No More Words by Reeve Lindbergh, Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner, The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphical Biography by Sid Jacobson and The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon. All of them were quite good!The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography

Watched & Watching

Bachelor in Paradisethe drama is just too much fun.

ManhattanThis is well-scripted, produced and cast. It’s amazing. It airs on WGN.

MarriedI really like Judy Greer, and I’m happy to see her in a starring role. Dark and funny!

Saving for Later

 

via

This recipe for Italian Pot Roast & Parmesan Risotto looks amazing!

I’ve pinned a lot of navy blue and gray pieces and outfits to my Fashion board for fall. Various additional items in those colors will really fit into my current closet.

What were you into this month?

**Linking up with Leigh Kramer**

Top 10 Characters at my Lunch Table

You Can't Sit with Us! | The Top 10 Literary Characters at my Lunch Table | The 1000th Voice Blog

Well, these ten fictional and nonfictional characters can always join my lunch table.

Laura Ingalls Wilder & Rose Wilder Lane, from The Little House series & Others

The dynamic between this mother-daughter literary duo would be fascinating to see in person, but each of them separately would also be great lunch table guests. Of course, in addition to my literary characters lunch, these two would make appearances on my authors table as well.

Hermione Granger, from the Harry Potter Series

Hermione is intelligent, well read and all around fascinating. Her stories of life as a Muggle at Hogwarts would fascinate the lunch table to no end.

Anne Frank, from The Diary of Anne Frank and Tales from the Secret Annex

Throughout her experience in hiding, Anne grew and developed a deep understanding of the human condition. Her contribution to lunchtime conversation would be astounding.

Winn Van Meter, from Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

Winn Van Meter turns out to be the token male at the table. His pompous, self-righteous attitude would, honestly, be most unwelcome, but all-together fascinating.

Mamah Borthwick Cheney, from Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

I definitely do not agree with Mamah’s decisions, but her education, desires and impact on women’s rights can’t be understaded. For that, she makes a great addition to the table.

Jane Eyre, from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane’s headstrong ways and willingness to live on her own terms would fit nicely with the others at the table.

Rachel Kalama, from Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

Despite a devastating diagnosis with leprosy, Rachel learns to truly live life to the fullest. Her communicable disease wouldn’t be welcome at the table.

Irene Beltrán, from Of Love and Shadows by Isabel Allende

Irene is typical of Allende’s strong, female characters. As a journalist during a revolution, she has to have fascinating stories for us.

Anne Shirley, from the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery

And, why not, Anne. Grown up Anne would be an excellent addition.

Who would join you at your table?

26f46-toptentuesday

**Linked up with The Broke and the Bookish**

RIP, Robin Williams | Thoughts on Brilliance & Legacies

In recent months, Nick and I have watched Hook and Aladdin with our four year old, Claire. It was fulfilling to introduce Robin Williams to a new generation–in fact to the third generation for my family. I recall as a child watching Good Morning, Vietnam with my parents who talked about “Mork and Mindy.” I was too young to understand the movie, but it wouldn’t be long before I fell in love with Aladdin and Hook and eventually with Dead Poet’s Society and What Dreams May Come.

In his comedic and dramatic roles, Robin Williams was intense, engaging and inspiring. His intensity was palpable; his work suffused with a persistence and a desire almost for perfection.

He was entertaining across his long career. It’s almost unheard of to see an actor with his range, his ability to be both dramatic and comedic, and his ability to appeal to audiences of all ages. His movies will continue to be watched for years to come by those craving sentimentality, to be transported back to the moment we first discovered this genius.

***

For those of us interested in artistic pursuits–whether our own or others’–we can rattle off the names of authors, poets, musicians, artists, actors and more visionaries whose brilliance was cut short by their own hand. We mourn not only that person, but the loss of their brilliance. And we’re left wondering how much their brilliance had to do with their struggles, how their brilliance may have contributed to a tightening darkness. The brilliant genius with a dark side has become a trope, a cliche.

In The Wire, Dashiell Bennett wrote about an episode of “Mork and Mindy” in which Mork meets Robin Williams. In this episode, Williams himself addresses the curse as Mork. Bennet writes, “Yes, celebrities get money and attention, but they also get harassed and attacked and everyone who comes in contact with them makes unreasonable demands on their time and energy.” Mork learns that “if you can’t learn to say no, then ‘there won’t be no more pieces for yourself.'”

Between the demands for time and energy, the drive and the pressure to be brilliant, it seems, darkness lies. We can speculate that acting and substance abuse helped Robin Williams and others cope, but there comes a time that without treatment those things won’t work. It seems we need our own self worth to come from the inside, not the outside. But amidst the utter darkness found in deep depression, there’s almost no way to understand this, to embrace it.

***

This summer Williams visited Hazelden in Minnesota for maintenance at the substance abuse rehab facility. He took a picture with a local Dairy Queen employee, looking a little tired, shabby and slightly unenthusiastic–not the public Robin Williams we’ve come to know and love. But what demands we place on celebrities to be who we want them to be, to be the person we see on the silver screen. Ultimately, the demand we place on them to be brilliantly entertaining all the time.

The picture made the rounds on the local TV news–Williams had essentially hit up two Minnesota establishments. Watching the 10 o’clock news later that night in June, Nick turned to me and said, “If I ever meet a celebrity, I don’t want their picture. I want to talk to them, see how they tick, how they think. What makes them who they are on the inside.”

In our “no picture or it didn’t happen” society I thought that was an interesting approach. Last night, as we discussed William’s untimely passing, we both wondered what would have happened if more people had demanded less from him and had gotten to know and understand the inner Robin Williams instead of just taking a photo.

If you or someone you know is struggling, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at  1-800-273-8255.

A Review of People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

As I mentioned in this post last summer, my first experience with Geraldine Brooks was her nonfiction The Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women. Brooks used her years of experience reporting from the middle east to write a great book that provides a lot of background on Islamic women to those of us far from familiar with their beliefs and lives.

After reading Year of  Wonders last summer (which I realize I’ve never reviewed), I fell in love with Brooks’ fiction work and couldn’t wait to read another one of her books. People of the Book was next up on my list.

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

People of the Book
By Geraldine Brooks

Review

People of the Book begins with, Hannah, an ancient book restoration expert in 1996, traveling to Sarajevo to inspect the Sarajevo Haggadah, an important Jewish book that hadn’t surfaced since prior to WWII. As  Hannah inspects the book, she discovers clues that eventually transport us back in time, following the book to its creation.

We follow the book back in time and witness the various atrocities Jews have endured over the years. We learn how the book’s owners survived or lost their lives. Throughout the book, Brooks emphasizes humanity among the atrocities from those who saved the book to those who saved the owners of the book.

Rating

Writing 5 out of 5 stars

Brooks’ writing was clear and transported me along the journey of discovering the book’s origin.

Character Development  4 out of 5 stars

As we travel back, we get to know a lot of fairly well developed characters

Plot Structure 5 out of 5 stars

The organization of the book works really well to move the plot forward.

Storytelling 5 out of 5 stars

Using the real life discovery of the Sarajevo Haggadah, Brooks tells a deep and intriguing story.

Total 4.75 out of 5 stars

Have you read People of the Book? What did you think?