May 29, 2012

Review: The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a total horror pussy. Generally, I have awful nightmares whenever I read horror fiction or watch scary movies. The Haunting of Hill House, while an excellent read, did not freak me out. It's just not that frightening. Mostly, it reminded me of old black-and-white horror movies with beautiful sets and photography, but limited special effects and old-fashioned acting. Which was kind of sweet, actually. Overall, it has the not-so-terrifying power of a Victorian seance, where the scariest thing is unexplained knocking under the table.

The real draw here is the descriptions, which are lovely and evocative, and the dialogue, which is sharp, imaginative, and surprising. There is palpable atmosphere throughout the book, and the off-kilter Hill House itself is the creepiest character. The dialogue sings with scathing modern charm, and helps build the wonderfully realized personalities of the characters.

Yes, the main arc, a descent into madness, is exceedingly well-done, but beyond some basic spooky noises and possibly-imagined bloody bits in the book's midsection, the promise of true terror goes unfulfilled. I was left wishing for a vastly more entertaining finale.

Jackson is a fantastic, fabulous writer, and I admired many of her turns of phrase and techniques of revelation throughout, as well as her excellent character development and humor. But I never got more frightened than mere nervousness in the middle, and that tense anticipation fizzled by the end. Really, it's more of an achingly sad story about loneliness than a tale of terror, and that's terrific, but not what I was led to expect.

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