I am not a big fan of scary books, I scare easily and I have no intention of keeping awake at nights imagining movements around the house. Yet, I am a fan of Shirley Jackson. I love beautiful prose. For that reason alone, I picked up this book by Jackson. It is supposed to be the best supernatural literary story of all times. Stephan King has admitted to being heavily influenced by her.
Eleanor Vance receives a letter from Dr. Montague, asking her to be a guest at Hill House. A small party is planning to spend a summer there and Dr. Montague hopes to study the presence of supernatural elements that the house is supposed to have. She accepts the invitation. She has been living with her sister and brother-in-law after the death of her mother. She looks forward to this invitation as an escape from her dull life.
She reaches Hill House and meets the other guests. There is Theodora, who is very friendly and full of fun. Luke Sanderson is the future heir of the house, hence he sees himself as the host. Dr. Montague is the head of the party and gives them various directions and pointers.
He tells the other about the background of the unhappy house which has seen some deaths and a suicide. No one seems to be willing to stay more than a few days here; those who have rented the house, abandoned it hastily.
Soon, Eleanor and others begin experiences supernatural happenings. Will they discover who is behind them, or will they succumb to fear like the previous inhabitants.
Daphne du Maurier would have been very proud of way Shirley Jackson describes the house. It is the centerpiece of the story. It seems to have a sinister life of its own. Despite its ugliness, it casts a spell on Eleanor.
The story is beautifully written, earning it the sobriquet of a 'literary' ghost story. We never really know all about the four main characters, a lot is just pointed at, we have to fill in the remaining information in our imagination.
Even though I am scared of ghost stories, I was charmed by this one, if that is the correct phrase to use. Shirley Jackson knows how to evoke terror through the written word.
This novel has been made into two movies, both called 'The Haunting', one in 1963 (which has been acclaimed) and the other in 1999 (which has not been received well).