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The Haunting of Hill House
By Shirley Jackson

Reviewed by Rob Gates
Rating: 9 out of 10

I read The Lottery way back in high school, and just like most everyone else, being forced to read the story turned me off to Shirley Jackson. It wasnít until the last few years that Iíve discovered a whole nother side to her writing Ė her horror-ish works.

While Hill House was not quite as powerful as some of her other works (We Have Always Lived In The Castle for instance) it is a fine example of the power of words alone to run chills down ones spine. Itís a shame that real horror has almost been destroyed by an endless stream of cinematic gore-fests and literary snoozers with burial ground monsters. There are no crazed axe murderers, satanic creatures or walking ghouls to be found here, just a house. Instead, Jackson chills with sounds, building tensions with doors that close on their own and occasional off-stage outbursts of what may simply be psychic phenomena. What she shows us is the horror of madness, the horror of not quite being in control, the horror of not knowing. Itís a literary technique that seems lost on most of todayís writers.

The story centers around 4 characters; Dr. Montague, Luke, Theodora, and Eleanor. These 4 people have gathered under the jurisdiction of Dr. Montague to investigate Hill House, an irregularly designed house with a dark past. Luke represents the family  that owns the house, while Theo and Eleanor both have histories of being psychically active. They meet and bond, becoming a close knit group quickly. But things and their relationships to each other, particularly Nell, fall apart rapidly. Jackson cleverly plays both ends against the middle, leaving some question as to the nature of the events at Hill HouseÖare they caused by spirits or some other malignant entity, or are they the result of a psychically active and mentally unstable young woman (Eleanor).

This was a fine book, and a good cure for the horror doldrums. Fascinatingly enough for its time, the implication that Theo is a lesbian is not subtle, and Jackson plays with the relationship between the two women with a powerful undercurrent. This undercurrent was even less subtle in the fabulous movie made from this story, The Haunting. I strongly recommend the book (the movie is a must!).

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