I remember reading Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” during school at some point, and finding it chilling. Later, when the whole Hunger Games franchise came around, one of my first thoughts was — hey, that’s a rip-off of “The Lottery!”
Anyway, I thought I’d poke around and see what else Jackson had written. One title coming up often was The Haunting of Hill House, touted as one of the best literary scary stories of the 20th century. I checked it out at the library.
The book’s protagonist is Eleanor, a lonely woman in her early 30s who has gone from caring for her harsh, aging mother (until the mother died) to living with her older sister, who doesn’t care much for her. Eleanor is longing for family and a place to belong: “Her years with her mother had been built up devotedly around small guilts and small reproaches, constant weariness, and unending despair.” When the mysterious Dr. Montague invites her and two others to spend some time exploring unexplained happenings at Hill House, Eleanor eagerly accepts.
Things seem to go well for a short time (short indeed; the entire stay at Hill House — and thus the novel itself — is just a week), but soon strange happenings begin in the house, and personal relationships between the three guests and the doctor begin as well. Eleanor dreams of being roommates with Theodora, the other female at Hill House, but Theodora squashes that notion quickly: “”Do you always go where you’re not wanted?’ Eleanor smiled placidly. ‘I’ve never been wanted anywhere,’ she said.”
Eleanor’s very identity begins to blend with that of Hill House, and her thoughts become blurred. At times it’s hard to tell what’s really happening in the book, and what is just a figment of Eleanor’s imagination. But that’s kind of the point, I think.
I enjoyed this book as a scary read that focuses in on our thoughts and where they can take us — the ending was surprising and sad.
Have you read The Haunting of Hill House, or anything by Shirley Jackson? I’ve also read good things about her “We Have Always Lived in the Castle.”