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October 24, 2008

Book a Month Challenge - October

October's theme is Haunting - and they gave quite an interesting list of suggestions. Horror isn't typically a genre I go for. I'm the type that gets scared easily, and has nightmares. And in general, I prefer lighter fare. But, seeing Shirley Jackson on the list of suggested titles, I had to give it a try. I read The Haunting of Hill House (wikipedia, with plot synopsis).

Shirley Jackson is one of my favorite authors - I love her writing, I love the craft and care she takes in telling the story. Reading this book reminds me how the skill of the author really does matter - there are many books where I just like the story without thinking of the way it is told, but with Jackson, you can't help but see how her wordsmithing advances the story, draws you in, and you appreciate that skill.

I just want to share this little passage as an example - at the very beginning of the book, Eleanor is on her way to Hill House:
She meant to savor each turn of her traveling, loving the road and the trees and the houses and the small ugly towns, teasing herself with the notion that she might take it into her head to stop just anywhere and never leave again. She might pull her car to the side of the highway - although that was not allowed, she told herself; she would be punished if she really did - and leave it behind while she wandered off past the trees into the soft, welcoming country beyond. She might wander till she was exhausted, chasing butterflies or following a stream, and then come at nightfall to the hut of some poor woodcutter who would offer her shelter; she might make her home forever in East Barrington or Desmond or the incorporated village of Berk; she might never leave the road at all, but just hurry on and on until the wheels of the car were worn to nothing and she had come to the end of the world.
I loved this passage, because it really is exactly how I feel whenever I'm going on a road trip alone. This drew me in immediately, and made me associate very strongly with Eleanor. Hence, the rest of the book was extremely creepy, as she becomes affected by the house. This is really a psychic thriller, very descriptive of the house, and how people feel, and what Eleanor thinks, and what she thinks the others are thinking. You doubt everything that happens, but you wonder if it's really happening in the book, or if Eleanor is imagining it.

Here's another passage, during one of the creepiest parts of book to me:
We left the light on, she told herself, so why is it dark? Theodora, she tried to whisper, and her mouth could not move; Theodora, she tried to ask, why is it so dark? and the voice went on, babbling, low and steady, a little liquid gloating sound. She thought she might be able to distinguish words if she lay perfectly still, if she lay perfectly still, and listened, and listened and heard the voice going on and on, never ceasing, and she hung desperately to Theodora's hand and felt an answering weight on her own hand.




The relationships among the characters, Eleanor and Theodora, Luke, and the Doctor, are very important to the story, though they are not always clear. I think one of the things that makes the book so scary, to me, is that the book stays with you, haunts you in its own way. After reading a chapter or two, I would find myself thinking over what I'd read, trying to figure out events, descriptions, how the characters related, what it really meant. And then I'd get scared and try to sleep. As a point of interest, the movie The Haunting is based on this book, and Steven King's The Shining was inspired by it.

Anyway, a rather muddled review, but I don't want to give everything away. The book is characteristic of Jackson, if you've read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, one of my favorite books, you'll be able to recognize some passing similarity between Eleanor and Merricat.

After thinking about why I enjoy reading THIS type of horror, I wonder if I'm just more tolerant of mediocre writing in fantasy and science fiction and chick lit after reading so much of it, but when reading something outside of my norm and comfort zone, I tend to be more picky and demanding of writing proficiency. Any one else get this way?

4 comments:

  1. Excellent choice, I've loved that story since the first time I read it. But then I enjoy the gothic horror genre. Glad you enjoyed it. It kind of makes me want to read it again.

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  2. Okay, my question for you is when did you first read Shirley Jackson??

    'Cause I have a feeling that I picked up We Have Always Lived in the Castle (which someone had given my sister) and started reading it way too young, it freaked me out and I've never gone back to reading Jackson. Am thinking like I was 13-14ish here, or maybe younger.

    Maybe this is something I need to get over. I really liked The Lottery and I like the gothic horror stuff obviously. So, question, which Jackson Should I start with?

    Yay, you're reading Kiki Strike!! It's certainly less spooky and more fun than Jackson. Am on the second and am trying not to read too fast.

    As for persnickedness, I think a lot of depends, but I tend to be very critical of medieval mysteries because after reading Eco first (who's so good) all of the others can't compete. Or the mystery template doesn't really work in medieval times. There are things I can let go, but there are things that are just too grating to ignore.

    Way too long of a response, as usual.

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  3. I first read the Lottery in high school, maybe Freshman year. Didn't read We Have Always Lived in the Castle until college - actually, Chris recommended it. Loved it.

    Kiki Strike was fun...very fluffy, but I like the author's style.

    I love your long responses!

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  4. The second Kiki Strike am halfway through and so far it seems as worthy as the first. I've been trying to get as many women (and young grrls) to read her as possible. So far, am doing pretty good. Got the first one for Corrie, my thirteen year old 2nd cousin. It's hardback still, so I'd try the library first.

    It's sign of goodness is that I want to rush right through it and have to slow myself down and only read two-three chapters at a time.

    So, should I read the Castle one first or the Haunting?? Or really either?

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