Surreal and unsettling, The Haunting of Hill House is engrossing and admirably well constructed. It starts strong and ends even stronger, though it did lose my focus for a little while in the middle. I’m not sure how to describe my interest in how the story is told; I’m very uncomfortable with the narrator… no, that’s not right, I’m mystified and intrigued by the narrator, which I find disorienting and stylistically unlike nearly every other book that I’ve read. I haven’t read many other narratives that use a disjointed third person semi-stream of consciousness, and which somehow manage to convey a distressing strangeness that seems to be crucial to the horror of the story.
And this book is most certainly a horror story. Shirley Jackson seems entirely aware of “less is more,” the same principle that so clearly guided Aliens, but she takes it to an extreme that I hadn’t even realized was possible. The whole story becomes the experience of the narrator, told at just enough of a remove that we can see the ways in which the narrator is changing and is effected by the horrible house, all while we remain very nearly as confused as she is about what is actually happening.
It’s an incredibly short book, one that moves along quickly if you’re willing to stick with it. If you’re interested in looking at a formative piece of the horror genre, I suggest you pick it up. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but so long as you’re able to accept the unconventional narrator I think you’ll enjoy it. Or at least find it worth reading, just to have the experience.
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