Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The Haunting of Hill House [book review]


The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Published by Penguin Classics on October 3, 2013 (originally 1959)
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Goodreads avg:
3.89 (as of 2018-11-07)
content warnings: gaslighting, suicide

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

The classic supernatural thriller by an author who helped define the genre. First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting;’ Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

Nothing is ever really wasted, she believed sensibly, even one’s childhood, and then each year, one summer morning, the warm wind would come down the city street where she walked and she would be touched with the little cold thought: I have let more time go by.

Hi all!! I’m trying a new review layout that I feel really helps me organize my thoughts better. Let me know how you like it. 🙂

→ What I Didn’t Like:

The Characters

Our main character, Nell, gave me a lot of mixed feelings. At times I adored her and at times I found her unbelievably annoying. The rest of the characters I disliked even more. I didn’t understand the motivations of most of them, and I found their sudden changes in mood and demeanor off-putting. I can see the purpose of this: to wonder whether it was all in Nell’s head, whether it was caused by the house, and/or whether these people were truly acting like this. The problem was, I found it so distracting and confusing that it detracted from the atmosphere of the novel for me. I was, quite frankly, annoyed by most of the characters.

→ What I Liked:

The Writing
While I had issues along the way, the fact remains that Shirley Jackson is an incredible author. She is just fantastic at atmospheric writing (although as noted above, the characters ruined some of that for me) and knows how to add in twists that you won’t expect, even if her books aren’t outright scary. In fact, the ending saved this book entirely for me. It was a solid 3-star read until the last bit, which had me on the edge of my seat. That ending cemented Nell as a solid character in my mind and I really felt what she was feeling.

→ Additional Thoughts:

I was quickly convinced that this book was a huge inspiration for House of Leaves, one of my favorite books. From the general aura of the house, to the scientific exploration of the unnatural, to the strange dimensions, this had an HoL vibe through and through. In fact, I’m sure in the months to come, I’ll be noting a lot of books and movies that are influenced by Jackson, as she has clearly made a mark on literature with her writing.

→ TL;DR:

  • I found the characters somewhat annoying
  • Spooky vibes, but not really scary
  • Shirley Jackson is a god-tier writer
  • The ending is SO GOOD
  • Definitely helped inspire House of Leaves
  • Recommend!

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(Blurb and cover courtesy of Goodreads.)

Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

We Have Always Lived in the Castle [review]


We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Published by Penguin Books on June 5, 1984 (originally 1962)
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Goodreads avg:
4.03 (as of 2018-10-25)
content warnings: Familial death, domestic abuse, agoraphobia
(I forgot to make notes on these so they’re from memory, alas)

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp.

In this village the men stayed young and did the gossiping and the women aged with grey evil weariness and stood silently waiting for the men to get up and come home.

This was my first Shirley Jackson novel and it far exceeded any expectations I could have set for it. After reading The Woman in Black, I knew that gothic horror was a genre I could get into and I found myself eyeing some of Jackson’s works. Fate worked in my favor: my friend Jackie lent me her copy of We Have Always Lived in the Castle around the same time Destiny and I decided to buddy read it. Destiny and I split the book up into three parts to read over three days, but I truly believe I could have devoured this all in one sitting if I hadn’t been so busy during when I started it.

The truly incredible thing, to me, is how Jackson is able to write the most mundane things in such an eerie way. Nearly every scene is drenched with tension and I felt a sense of dread that continued to build as the book went on. Even at the start, our main character Merricat is going about her regular routine, running errands in the village. It’s an ordinary task, but it’s all just off enough to give the reader a sense of unease. I found myself absolutely terrified of the townspeople without even knowing why. And on it continues, every scene off-kilter enough that you can’t retain any sense of balance. The building anticipation makes it impossible to put down. I absolutely had to know what was going to happen next, and how the story would climax.

On top of the fantastic atmosphere that really drives the plot, I thought the characterization was great as well. Merricat is such a strange yet fun character to follow and everything is colored through her peculiar point of view. Constance, her sister, is intriguing and you can’t help but wanting to know more about her, even as you feel wary of her. Uncle Julian is certainly an unreliable character — it’s hard to piece together everything he’s saying, and you’re not quite sure what is true — and I liked him as well. The fourth human character (because we can’t forget Merricat’s pet cat Jonas, who I adored) is cousin Charles. I thought Jackson did a really lovely job of portraying the single mindedness of a child who truly believes someone is evil, and made Charles quite terrifying.

Overall, I honestly I don’t know if there’s a thing I would change about this book. I had unanswered questions, but it almost feels like they should remain that way. I genuinely think this story is a true masterpiece and I can’t wait to start in on Hill House, which I’m picking up from the library very soon!

I was chilled.

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(Blurb and cover courtesy of Goodreads.)