…haunting. The path of the sun.”
I just finished reading Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House.”
After reading other classic “haunting” stories, and listening to the hype of S.J.’s novel I reluctantly have to say I was a bit let down with this one when I was done.
What I can appreciate is that it was perhaps a novelty of its time (I mean 1959 was three years before I was born), and the approach may have been unique in the horror/ghost world, but the story didn’t grip me.
The first major distraction for me, as I read along, was the never-ending use of adverbs throughout the faded pages (I have an old copy). I’ve mentioned this same distraction in an earlier blog with another older novel, but it is interesting to note how in many novels written betweem the 50’s to 80’s have “ly” words sprinkled liberally throughout them (kinda like salt on my French fries …and I adore salt and vinegar on my fries). Today, a modern writer would get their pen or keyboard fingers smacked or hacked for doing such a thing. And so I had to suppress my intense desire to start editing the text as I read.
The second thing that bothered me is that I didn’t feel the least ‘involved’ in the story. Neither Eleanor, nor Theodora, were particularly likeable characters. Actually, there wasn’t a human character I liked much at all. The only ‘being’ I liked (if one can call it such), was Hill House itself, if just for the descriptions and the ‘feel’ of it. A couple of my favorite early descriptions were these…
“It was a house without kindness…” (So simple, yet evocative.)
“Exorcism cannot alter the countenance of a house; Hill House would stay until it was destroyed.” (This line sets up the rules of the novel in many ways, and lets the reader understand what kind of damnable building the characters will be dealing with.)
Despite some lovely verbiage interspersed throughout, I wanted much more in the descriptions. I also thought at one point, if I read another line that described something as “dark” (a completely overused adjective) I was going to pull out a fingernail (someone else’s, not mine). Another thing that bugged me was the repetition of certain lines . I really didn’t want to read another, “Journey’s end in lovers meeting.” I felt there was little point in the extensive repetition.
What I did like was some of the wording Shirley Jackson used in the novel. I found myself underlining passages and words that caught my eye and described something I may previously have had a ‘lack of the right word’ for. For example:
“…atavistic turn in the pit of her stomach...”
“…an act of moral strength…”
“…suspicious sullenness of her face…”
“…arranged with unlovely exactness…”
“…her face was thin with anger…”
“…dim convoluted patterns…”
I have a habit, when I read, of writing down words and phrases I like from novels, and keeping them in a notebook. Anywhere from one word to three or five strung together. I read over my notebook when I’m writing, and every now and then the perfect description will jump out at me. One of my favorite descriptions is “gravestone gray.” I’ve used that a few times.
To finish with a brief summary of this novel, I felt it was okay, but it didn’t captivate me. I expected more, and maybe I’m just a poor reader and don’t recognize the brilliance of the story, but nothing about it really “wow’d” me. My general feeling, when I got to the last page, was that at least I was at THIS journey’s end…and I was overwhelmed with relief.