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FriedEgg

FriedEgg

The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson Reading this after having read Richard Matheson's Hell House, I knew it was going to be difficult not to draw comparisons and I hoped that this book wouldn't seem tame in comparison.

Like "Hell House", this is a story of a group of disparate characters who arrange to stay in a supposedly haunted house so that the true nature of the phenomena can be studied and documented. The house itself has a long and mysterious past, is shunned by the locals and the guests are looked after by a strange local pair who refuse to be anywhere near the house any time after dark. As the house maid reliably informs them upon their arrival, if they scream in the night, no one will hear them.

In some ways this is tamer than "Hell House". It is far less overtly menacing, far less of a sense of physical danger is posed to the inhabitants. But in other ways, this house is every bit as scary. It is described so well, it's very nature invoking a strong sense of unease even before any form of manifestation occurs. The very dimensions of the house, every wall either being a few inches short of adequately roomy or a few inches too long to be adequately cosy, no vertex being a true right angle, leading to confusion in the characters' spacial awareness. It has many rooms arranged in concentric circles around the central room, most of which have no windows or if they do they do are covered with heavy drapes, the house is always dark and dingy, the doors between rooms always swinging shut adding to the confusion of the inhabitants.

Throughout the story there is an ambiguity as to what is going on, if the house itself a source of manifestations or a mere facilitator to the character's own imaginations and psychological hangups that they bring with them? The occurrences seem also the be strangely related to the relationships between the protagonists themselves, particularly Eleanor and Theodora.

This is a more intelligent and subtle handling of a haunted house story that leaves more room for ambiguity. Every bit as scary, albeit in a more restrained way, as Matheson's later treatment of the same subject matter.