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?

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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?

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 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?

Weekly Reads | 8.3.2014

How was your weekend? I only got about an hour of reading in this weekend. Most of that time was in a bubble bath.

So this week, I’m continuing to read

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf Mrs. Dalloway
By Virginia Woolf

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

In the car, I’m listening to

Our Lady of the Forest by David Guterson

Our Lady of the Forest (Audiobook)
By David Guterson
Read by Blair Brown

Recent Posts

Ten Authors I Own The Most Books From
What I’m Into | 7.2014
Major Book Buying Mode

What are you reading this week?

**Linked up with Book Journey**

Weekly Reads | 7.28.2014

With Claire visiting my parents last week, Nick and I got to work on some household projects. I didn’t have much reading time, but I took as much time as possible.

Beginning this week, I’ll be reading the second half of

Zenith City: Stories from Duluth by Michael FedoZenith City: Stories from Duluth
By Michael Fedo

On my commute I’ve been switching between the radio and

The Magician's Assistant by Ann PatchettThe Magician’s Assistant (Audiobook)
By Ann Patchett

I wasn’t sure I’d stick with this after the first few minutes, but, as usual, I’m glad I stuck with it.

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

Recent Posts

July Book Lists

Pick out your next read from these great lists.

A Review of Steve Martin’s An Object of Beauty

Not comedy, but Martin’s distinctive voice shines through.

What are you reading this week?

**Linked up with Book Journey**