Thursday, 25 October 2012

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson's classic haunted house story is one of my personal favourite books ever, I love a good ghost story and this is a very good one. Dr Montague, a scientist who's obsessed with ghosts as I am, manages to convince four people to come and spend the summer in a big old house that he's rented to study the existence of psychic disturbances. Oh and did I mention that the house is haunted? Cause it totally is. A simple set up to a book that is widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best, haunted house book ever written and if you don't believe, just ask Mr. Stephen King, go on ask him.
As Dr 'whats his face's' guests arrive, they get to know each other and soon develop a group dynamic that begins well but starts to fall apart as they begin to question each other intentions, beliefs and metal states. Are they ghosts? Or is it all in Eleanor's head? These questions are left open for the reader to make their own decisions about. In a way, this book shares a lot in common with 'The Turn of the Screw'; both stories that follow two women, isolated from the world in a big old house with a small group of people who they're not sure if they can trust. But as the reader, can we trust these woman? Both seem unstable and both see things that others can't, didn't or just refuse to believe are true.
And that's what I love most about this book; it's Eleanor's psyche that we explore through her thought processes, her eager optimism at the beginning her instant like of the people she meets and the slow unravelling as her mind descends in to paranoia and terror. It's the terror that this book relies on more than any gruesome horror or shocking moments, and it's this richly written main protagonist whose very honest, fragile and real voice draws you into this world that leaves you with an unsettling terror.
While it might be too subtle for some who prefer their ghost stories full of jumps and horrifying spectres, the film version (made in the late 90s, starring Catherine Zeta Jones and Liam Neeson), omitted all the books subtlety in favour of CGI ghosts that came out of the walls to attack the characters. It's just a terrible film and a very, very poor representation of what this book is actually like, which is simply quite brilliant.
If you are too lazy to read then may I recommend the 1963 version by Oscar winning director Robert Wise, the man behind West Side Story, who does an outstanding job of bringing the book to the big screen. However, it does omit one of my favourite parts of the book, when Dr Montague's wife comes for a short visit. Wise captures the tone and atmosphere of the book, keeping the paranoia, the fear and the doubt perfectly.
What do you think? Let me know, feel free to comment, follow, plus and share, thanks.

1 comment:

  1. Loved this book so much! Best bit is when Eleanor is holding hands with her friend in the dark but when the lights come on, no one is there! And the 1963 film version is WAY better than the new one!