There could possibly be two parts to this post because haunted houses abound in the scary literature.
This is the centennial year of Shirley Jackson’s, author of The Haunting of Hill House, birth. As so Amazon was kind to have it somewhat discounted, but beyond that, all the TBR blowing up lists of must reads usually features this book somewhere. So it had to be added to my arsenal.
Paranormal research, to my particular delight, is all over the television, but it is not a new idea. This book came out in 1959 and features a researcher and people he invited to stay with him as a part of conducting research on the paranormal. The two women invited both have some kind of interaction with the paranormal in the past and the particular protagonist, Eleanor, comes chock with vulnerabilities from her own recent past. Although she is in her early thirties she has thus yet spent her adulthood caring for an ill mother and resides with a sister and her husband, for whom she cares little. As such she is still fanciful and childlike and full of traumatic memories. She is ripe for the execution when she comes to the door of the house.
This book is scary, if somewhat understated and subtle. The characters sarcastic joking around and banter got a little tiring and I couldn’t tell what was real and what were jokes played all the time, but that is probably a big piece of the appeal. Not knowing what is real and what is not is, at least to me, what freaks me out. Stephen King’s It got me like that. I am dying to see that new movie of it even though I know what it will do to me.
I read a more modern take on this as well, more modern even than The Shining:
The Haunting Season, Michelle Muto
Muto takes Jackson’s book, makes it feature young adults, and ups the demonic and research plots. Gone are some of the understated subtleties and unmoored adults of the 1950’s, these kids have real powers and are headed to college after this summer project of participating in research is over. They are a little more dynamic than amorphous and sad Eleanor who is trying to figure herself out now that her life is her own. Of course, just because they are more dynamic does not mean they are not coming in with their soft spots to be devoured, because what haunted house can really get to a fully intact individual? Actually, I don’t want to ask that one.
Muto develops the demonic a little more than Jackson does. The negative forces have more of a backstory and are personified more. The scary moments are more dramatic. The ghosts manifest and speak. Hill House has its moments where supernatural elements manifest in less direct ways, but in this one, ghosts just roll up without a lot of preamble. Which is fine, because the point isn’t to find out if there are ghosts, it is more to discover something that is vastly more sinister about why they are ghosts and what they want.
Muto had two plots going and went with developing the one more with the kids banishing the evil from the house, or trying to. Just like with any book about conducting controversial research, it goes off the rails. She could have expanded the real reason the kids had been chosen to be part of the research but developing both completely likely would have made this book a little cumbersome.
I liked it. I would have liked it more had I read it when I was the target audience age. I wish YA had been as much of a thing when I was in that demographic as it is now. I have so much YA on my kindle that I have not read yet and I think it does such great things for kids awareness and empathy in a world that still needs it. I try to recommend books to some of my kids who do and do not read.
These books are both about scary houses that want you. I am upset that I already talked about The Shining in a previous reading challenge post because I would have added it here. I want to read Gillian Flynn’s short The Grownup and see if it has the same idea of a house wanting someone. Maybe some Poe.
Other good haunted house stories out there? I like suggestions. Even though I already noted in a previous post that I can be somewhat glacial in getting to them.