Tag Archives: horror

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

Haunting of Hill House

I’ve begun my annual reading of the scary stories, which is something I like to do every year during the Halloween season. The first book I pulled off the shelf was The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson, which I’d picked up at the used bookstore recently. I was all set for a spooky, creepy haunted house story. What I got…was something a little more extraordinary.

You see, The Haunting of Hill House doesn’t really wear its scares on its sleeve. Instead, Jackson builds suspense and tension slowly, leaving only unanswered questions instead of providing answers. She does this through masterful character development and deliberate pacing. Jackson even manages to subvert my expectations a bit, as she introduces a couple of characters toward the end of the book, and I expected certain things to happen to them. She takes things in a completely unexpected direction instead.

The story begins when Dr. Montague, Eleanor, Luke and Theodora arrive to stay at the house for a period where they’ll investigate its reported freaky occurrences. Dr. Montague has arranged the gathering, and recruited Eleanor and Theodora for events that have occurred in their past that might make them more open to paranormal phenomena. Luke is present as a member of the family that owns Hill House, which was built 80 years previously by a man named Hugh Crain.

Strange things happen, like writing appearing on the walls and terrifying noises in the night as things seem to be trying to get into their rooms. The group basically agrees that they will always stick together, especially at night, because they seem to be particularly vulnerable when separated.

It’s never really clear, though, what causes the manifestations of evil. The house itself is a character, with a wicked design that makes it impossible to find one’s way around and exerting a malevolent influence of its own. There are intimations that Eleanor might be responsible for some of the writings, and if she’s not, it’s pretty clear that something has latched onto her.

All of the horror in the book is psychological, so any reader looking for blood and guts is bound to be disappointed. But if you like a carefully crafted, ambiguous tale that leaves you yearning for just a bit more, The Haunting of Hill House is a perfectly nasty little read.

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Halloween Reading

halloween

During the month of October, I always like to pick out a couple of books that seem appropriate for the Halloween season and bump them to the top of my reading list. This year, I have a few set aside, but I thought I’d solicit a little bit of feedback as to which ones should be highest priority – or if I should perhaps consider something else altogether. I probably won’t get to all of them, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try.

At the moment, I’m looking at:
The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
The Shining – Stephen King
The Italian – Ann Radcliffe
Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen
The Place Called Dagon – Herbert Gorman
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley (re-read)

What are your favorite books for the Halloween season? Any others I should be thinking about?

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The Strain, by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

strain

Usually, I like to reserve books from the horror genre for October, where I have a scary Halloween celebration the entire month by reading tales of terror and fright. But ever since its release in June, I’ve listened to friends talk about The Strain and its new take on the vampire trope. Unable to wait even a month longer to read it for myself, I grabbed the book and prepared to be scared.

Well…it wasn’t necessarily scary. But it wasn’t the same old boring vampire crap that has come about as a result of Twilight, True Blood and their ilk, either. Treating vampirism like something repulsive and unwanted is a bold approach in these days of Team Edward, but I’ll be damed if Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan didn’t pull it off.

The story has an excellent set-up. A jumbo jet arrives in New York City and lands safely, but as it taxis down the runway, it suddenly shuts down completely. Power is off, and the air traffic controller can’t raise the pilots. When the ground crew goes out to investigate, they discover that everyone onboard the plane has died – and thus, the Centers for Disease Control are called in. Yes, there is a virus, or some sort of disease afflicting the people on the plane. But as you can probably guess, it’s a disease that lets its victims seem alive even after death.

I did think there were many things the book did well. There was a constantly building sense of dread, and there is some solid character development done. Overall themes are carried through even to the smallest story line. And as I mentioned before, rather than having people pine to become vampires, everyone who comes into contact with the afflicted knows instantly that this is a fate worse than death. There’s no romanticizing the Undead here.

Those of you who are familiar with the name will recognize author del Toro from his directorial work on films like Pan’s Labyrinth, the Hellboy movies, and The Devil’s Backbone. He has a real talent for creating fantastical worlds and following through with imagery even if it’s unappealing. He previously ventured into the world of vampires with the movie Blade II, and the vampires in The Strain do indeed bear a bit of similarity to some of the creatures in that movie (especially with their mouths and the way they feed. I felt like del Toro had already drawn the picture for me).

I do sort of wish that del Toro and Hogan had avoided stuff like having a grizzly, wise old vampire hunter who knew all the secrets. It seems like the story could have been significantly more tense if the main characters had needed to uncover the disease’s source for themselves. Also, the book does end rather suddenly, and isn’t really a self-contained tale. There’s definitely a “to be continued” aspect to it, which is fine and leaves the reader wanting more, but doesn’t really allow the book to become an instant classic in its own right.

I do recommend The Strain, though. It’s a quick, engaging page-turner and I’m certainly anticipating the follow-up, because the end of the first book definitely sets up something huge. Bring on “The Fall”!

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