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?

Book Review: Rebecca

Book Review: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier | The 1000th Voice Blog

Rebecca
By Daphne du Maurier

After completing my Weekly Reads post on Monday, I quickly got to work finishing Rebecca. It was over much quicker than expected. It was a bittersweet moment when I realized the last 30 or so pages were the Author’s Note. Of course, I excitedly read the Author’s Note, and, while I appreciated the ending of Rebecca, it was just over a quicker than planned.

Review

As I reflected on the book today, I also started the short We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. It made me think about the length of a story and its depth. I’m not far enough into Castle to know if it’s too short or not deep enough, but I’ve definitely read books that were too short and some that were too long with writing that should have been cut to tell a better story. I don’t believe a single word should be cut from Rebecca. At almost 400 pages, I believe there’s still an economy of words that tells a thoroughly intriguing story. Without the extra bits, the story wouldn’t have the suspense or the creepiness it has.

With all that said, it probably goes without saying that I loved this book. But let me tell you more about my love. I was riveted; I wanted nothing more than to have a few spare minutes to read this book. A 12-hour round trip to my parent’s house this weekend provided plenty of time to read. One aspect of the book that kept my attention was the general iciness that lent a creepy air. I could just picture Mrs. Danvers’ and Mrs. de Winter’s confrontations with a sharp chill between the two.

Quotable

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” – Page 1

“A new confidence had been born in me when I burnt that page and scattered the fragments. The past would not exist for either of us, we were starting afresh, he and I.” – Page 61

“I had an uneasy feeling we might be asked to spend the approaching Christmas with Beatrice. Perhaps I could have influenza.” – Page 181

“Sometimes I wonder if she comes back here to Manderley and watches you and Mr. de Winter together.” – Page 176

Rating

Writing 5 out of 5 stars

As I said above, there wasn’t a word wasted in creating an icy atmosphere that also really fit the period.

Character Development 5 out of 5 stars

A character that grows, changes or shows his/her faults is a realistic character. du Maurier excellently developed her characters throughout the story.

Plot Structure 5 out of 5 stars

Starting at the end, the main portion of the book is a flashback to a matter of months in the narrator’s life. I always think that using this format is in and of itself interesting. The story also builds to a climax that’s relatively unexpected.

Storytelling 5 out of 5 stars

du Maurier proves herself to be an excellent storyteller with this book. The story itself is intriguing, but it’s also told in a fascinating way.

Total 5 out of 5 stars

Have you read Rebecca? What were your thoughts?

Halloween 2013 The 1000th Voice Blog

Weekly Reads: 10.14.2013

in which I share my planned reading for the week ahead

OK. It’s for real this time! I’ve finished Dracula, and I’m reading a new book!

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier | Weekly Reads | The 1000th Voice Blog

Rebecca 
By Daphne du Maurier

I’m not too far into it, but I’m loving this book. There’s a nice undercurrent of suspense that’s making me very excited to learn the outcome.

**Linked up with Book Journey**

What are you reading this week? Have you read Rebecca? Thoughts (no spoilers, please)?