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3/5: The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson, Laura Miller

As part of an investigation into paranormal activity, a parapsychologist and three guests try to spend some time at a potentially haunted house, the Hill House of the title…

The story follows mostly Eleanor Vance, one of the guests of the parapsychologist. She’s been under the thumb of a terminally ill mother for most of her life and she’s a fantasist, dreaming of a new life, imagining the homes she drives by on the way to Hill House as if she were living there.

We follow her descent into wild mood swings and madness…or possibly possession by Hill House, a character in its own right, a place where all the angles are slightly off and the doors swing shut on their own (and the furniture moves…or does it? Maybe it’s the housekeeper?).

Ambiguity is what’s going on here, more than anything; Jackson takes subtext to the next level. Eleanor spends an hour with a male character in the summer house…what are they doing there? We’re never told, either because of the period the book was written in – the 1950s – or a sub-textual choice. Is Theodora a lesbian, or just living with a woman as a flatmate? Did Eleanor kill her mother through neglect?

Even the omniscient narrator may be unreliable. Everything is slightly off, just enough to throw you. Everything has a rational explanation…and then everything has a supernatural explanation.

It’s an odd little book, all right.