Shirley Jackson certainly knows how to do creepy well. I read her short novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle for last year’s RIP Challenge, so grabbing another book by her seemed very smart for this year’s!
The premise of the book is that there is a fellow, Dr. Montague, who is conducting some experiments at a place called Hill House. Basically, he’s heard some stories about the house being haunted and basically uninhabitable, and he’s hoping to make some notes on any phenomena he might come across. He takes on a couple of assistants, including Eleanor Vance, our protagonist. Eleanor and the others spend several nights in the house, observing some interesting things like something banging on doors, a very cold spot where no draft could come through, and the same or another something writing messages on walls. But even with all of the house’s oddities, Eleanor finds herself starting to really love the house… perhaps too much?
Because that’s what the book is really about. Eleanor has been essentially a shut-in for 11 years, taking care of her mother, and her sister doesn’t respect her, and Eleanor has no friends or self-confidence until she shows up at Hill House. And then she tries a little too hard to be BFF(aeae)s with everyone, and of course it doesn’t work quite that well, and so she makes friends with the only thing left to be friends with — the creepy house. Which goes about as well as you might expect.
I’ll admit I was hoping for something a little scarier when I picked this up, but I am perfectly content with the psychological creep factor — I certainly understand the feeling of being shut in and having no one to hang out with, though I hope that my friends who have to love me through the Internet would keep me from getting eaten by a haunted house. You would, right? Please?
Ahem. So Jackson hits the interpersonal relations right on the nose, with the “lets be best friends!” attitude of strangers living together that slowly erodes into a “lets avoid each other like the plague!” when the people realize they don’t actually like each other all that much, and with the clingy “wait let’s still be frieeeeends” Eleanor, and especially with the pitch-perfect passive-aggressive Theo. Jackson also nails the creepy-haunted-house bit with the banging on the walls and the spinning room and the “oh, that’s really creepy” moment between Eleanor and Theo. And THEN she offers up an excellent person going slowly and inexorably insane.
Basically I’m going to have to marry Shirley Jackson. Don’t tell Scott.
Recommendation: For those who like a bit of psychological creepiness in their cereal, and who don’t mind if that’s the only kind of creepiness. Not for those who are looking for people popping out from behind doors, wielding knives and severed heads.
Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.