The Haunting of Hill House
This past week I had the opportunity to re-read what I consider to be one of the best haunting stories ever written. I read The Haunting of Hill House written by author Shirley Jackson in 1954. She has a talent for bring to life a house in a very scary way. When a house takes on a life of its own and drives a person into sure madness you know you have a problem.
Another book I have read by Jackson is The Lottery and Other Stories. It is unfortunate that Jacksons declining health led her to an early grave.
There are two big highlights of this book for me. The first is how I experienced the story as a reader. I found myself back and forth wondering if the house was really haunted or was it all being manifested in the mind of one of the characters.
The other thing I liked and probably the biggest strength of this story is the characters. There are few characters in this story, but they are effective.
The story follows a group of people who go to stay at an ominous manor that could be haunted. As the story unfolds a series of odd things are experienced by the group. Throughout the story one character in particular descends into madness and by the end she is completely insane.
The leader of the group, Dr. Montague, is a strange man who is obsessed with finding evidence of ghosts and hauntings at any cost. Another character is Theodora, a character who is not bothered by much of anything. Then you have the heir to the house, a man names Luke. He is just a filler character in my opinion. The final and most important character is Eleanor. She is a shy, troubled girl who has more mystery than meets the eye. ***SPOILER*** Eleanor goes insane ***END SPOILER***
Right from the start of the story Jackson paints an image of the house being a character in the story. The opening "Within, walls continued upright, bricks met nearly, 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."
I think establishing the setting as a character creates a space that lacks control and deviates from the known physical world which is a terrifying thought. You mix in some isolation and you have a story you cannot put down.