The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

classics, Pschological horror


To the next person who reads this book:

We are introduced, first, to the house. ‘No live organism can continue for long to exist soley under conditions of absolute reality,’ it begins.

Hill house, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stnoe of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Welcome to Hill House: the first novel I have read that left me feeling genuinely scared; it was a creeping sense of fear – the kind that slowly  settles over you like a shadow casting nearer without your noticing. When you do, the fear is gripping and hard to shake.

This fear lingered. Even when I wasn’t reading The Haunting of Hill House, I was thinking about it.

The juxtaposition between the first sunny morning of protagonist Eleanour’s arrival to the house and the dark, mysterious inner rooms of the house is incredibly effective.

Three people, Eleanour, Theodora and Luke come to the house upon invitation from Dr. John Montague, Doctor of Philosophy. But what he wants  to study in the house is far from what his doctorate might suggest.

None of the three guests are aware of the reasons why they have been invited to the house, but each have their own reasons for accepting the invitation.

What I like most about this novel was whether or not Hill House was haunted by the dead, or the living – of which does the title refer?

Eleanour is an unreliable narrator, it is hard to trust what of her narration has been warped by her own strange version of reality.

She has spent the majority of her young life friendless and estranged – being introduced into the social setting of Hill House, Eleanour comes accross as slightly neorotic and strange.

The story tracks the slow unravelling of Eleanour in the hosue – but whether it is of a supernatural nature or not is uncertain.





The Bird’s Nest – Shirley Jackson

classics, Pschological horror

To the next person who reads this book:

The Bird’s Nest is one of Jackson’s earlier works. It came before The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

The Bird’s Nest introduces us first to Elizabeth Richmond, who lives with her outspoken Aunt, works at a desk in a museum and, otherwise leads an uneventful life.

But the more I think of her, the more interesting she becomes: she at once comes across as lacking in some way – of self, or personality. She leads a quiet life of routine and habit, diligently going to work every day, then coming home to Aunt Morgen, where she eats dinner with Aunt Morgen and never interrupts Aunt Morgen to speak.

Elizabeth also appears to have no friends. It’s rather like she is living a life that is ‘good’ and ‘well-behaved’ – seeming not to have any wants or desires (or if she ever did, they have long been forgotten or supressed). Her life, much like her work at the museum, seems very methodical and vacant.

Elizabeth’s quiet existence is disrupted by the affliction of terrible headaches and backaches, along with mysterious notes being left on her desk at work, and the following of some unexplained events. The headaches, after reaching a point of severity  prompt a visit to a doctor, which then eventuates in Elizabeth’s seeing a psychologist, where we find that Elizabeth’s body hosts three other personalities…

The awakening of these personalities seem at first terrifying, particularly in the way that Betsy keeps asking if she can open her eyes.

The revealing of each new personality tells us something more of Elizabeth’s life – and how she came to exist in the way that she does.

Jackson is especially clever in the way that she shows how these different personalities interact, not just with one another, but also with Aunt Morgen and Doctor Wright (Elizabeth’s doctor), which I especially enjoyed.

Also interesting was the question of identity, and who we are. In the war between the personalities inside Elizabeth’s body, we are made to think about what actually makes us who we are inside, and who we would be, if say, another personality suddenly gained consciousness over our lives while we remained unconscious to this fact.

Would who we are, or who we were, be dead? Do we cease to be? For me, this was an interesting question. It is a strange thought to imagine my body walking around with someone else living, acting, thinking, and being on my behalf.