I read this one back in January, when the Christmas lights were waning, days were short, nights dark and cold and the epidemic seemed a very distant idea, happening on another continent. I remember sitting on my couch with my knees tucked, under a blanket. And clearly with a weird expression on my face, as my Bigger Half happily tried to scare me several times.
It is hailed as one of the best haunting tales. And it is. Jackson holds the atmosphere firmly in her grip and expertly managed the periods of respite with tension that makes us curl up. The story is simple, which I think makes for most of the trick. We have a Hill House, apparently haunted, everyone in the nearby village refuses to go there. Only Mrs and Mr Dudley, a housekeeper and a gardener, maintain the house and only during the day. No one lived in the house for a while, and frankly, no one really wants to.
Until dr Montague decides to explore the haunting up close. He recruits a group of people to join him in this endeavor. We have chirpy and direct Theodora, withdrawn, lonely and dreamy Eleanor, who already had some experience with a poltergeist, and Luke, down to earth future owner of the house. They are supposed to live in the house for the entire summer. Dr Montague does not hide the purpose of this stay from his team, he actually actively encourages them to go and explore and diligently note what they experience.
Gradually we find out the backstory of each person, and at some point, Mrs. Montague joins the group, she is an intimidating figure indeed, so much so that she probably can scare away any sign of a haunting. Eleanor is her polar opposite, overly responsive to what happens around her, her loneliness making her vulnerable and unmoored. We have here all the classic signs of a haunting: banging and noises, cold places, bloody apparitions. As expected they all happen during the night, but even during the day, the atmosphere becomes more and more strained.
The group jokes and banters a lot during the day (their conversations are absolutely hilarious), however as we progress their laughter sounds more and more hysterical. It seems everything in the house is there to unnerve them, including the Dudleys with their repetitive statements (at some point I suspected Mrs Dudley of being a ghost too), as well as the house itself being built slightly off-angle.
It is a really amazing tale. I do not believe in ghosts and the majority of ghost stories make me laugh. But even with my cynicism, Jackson manages to pull off a number of scary moments. So for those more faint-hearted, probably do not read it when you are home alone. I read it in an apartment in a block of flats, so the knowledge there’s other people just on the other side of the wall was helpful. I think if I read it alone in my family home I’d be awful scared 😉
Just before the lockdown, at the beginning of March I watched the Netflix series inspired by the book. While it is a nice tribute to Jackson’s book, with many little bows to the original story and its author it is not as good as the book. I do admire the producers though for going their own way, rather than just adapting the story for the screen. It was a bold move, that ended in a very decent series, even if not matching the original book.