Tuesday 6 May 2008


I am back from a lovely long weekend in Northern Ireland, and have so many blogs to catch up with... give me a few days. Today was taken up with work and a driving lesson, in which I was 'introduced' to roundabouts and dual carriageways. All the fun of the fair.

The wedding I attended was beautiful and wonderful, a great time had by all - my much-loved friend Emily has now become Mrs. Sam, and is off enjoying a honeymoon in a place I only managed to establish began with M. Whilst in Northern Ireland, I and a group of other college friends took the opportunity to wander around, including a trip to Giant's Causeway. Amazing. I've stolen this picture from a friend, since I didn't take my camera.

Somehow, I also found time to read three and a half books. I'll start by telling you about The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and will mo
ve onto the others as and when.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson was one of my favourite books on 2006, currently a hmm-maybe for the 50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About - so I was surprised and pleased when Clare-the-Archivist was reading a Shirley Jackson at work. She did do English at The Other Place, but I suppose that needn't completely bar her from a good taste in books. The Haunting of Hill House was duly borrowed...

I am quite a difficult creature. There is a very fine li
ne between Gothic-y novels (which I love) and horror novels (which I hate) and perhaps it's impossible for the naked eye to identify which books would fall into which category. Shirley Jackson is definitely the former. The Haunting of Hill House wasn't as good as We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but was still very impressive. Dr. Montague wishes to investigate the paranormal reputation of Hill House, and invites Luke (the larcenous heir), Eleanor (downtrodden, lonely girl) and Theo (lighthearted, witty woman) to stay there with him. Everything about the house is off-putting - for example, every angle in it is a degree or two off, to confuse the mind into expecting windows to look out where they won't, and cause imbalance. Objects are moved around; doors are knocked on in the middle of the night, but only heard by some. But the house exacts a more powerful effect on one of the four...

Outside of fiction, I find this sort of paranormal stuff nonsense at best, and damaging at worst, but in the hands of Jackson it becomes more like a Gothic detective novel - answers need to be sought; characters explored and undercurrents plumbed. Start with We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but check out The Haunting of Hill House for a tale which is chilling without sacrificing character or panache.


  1. And another 'new' writer to add to the ever growing list. When I used to work in Smiths in Stratford where we looked out onto a roundabout it was always a sure test for identifying those who were trying to cope with left hand for the first time. They could manage to stay on the correct side of the road, but inevitably went the wrong way round the island. It caused some magnificent traffic jams!

  2. It sounds like you had a lovely weekend. I love Shirley Jackson's 'The Haunting of Hill House'. I've read it several times over the years. It is a book for which I have a fond association with my grandmother (it was at her house that I read it so many times). I haven't read 'We Have Always Lived in the Castle', so I can't compare the two, but maybe I should so I can determine which is better :)

  3. I've been to the Giant's Causeway--it's lovely there, isn't it! I was told that there is a similar geographic formation on the coast of england--at one time the two islands were one and at some point split in two. I'd love to go back!

  4. I've been meaning to read some Shirley Jackson this year. I am lucky in that I have a collection that includes both books you've reviewed as well as some short stories.

  5. There's a very good movie (black and white), The Haunting, with Julie Harris and Claire Bloom (there's a recent remake which is horrible, with hokey special effects). I own this DVD and get the urge to view it every once in a while. Harris and Bloom are excellent. I consider it the scariest movie I have ever seen and yet there is nothing to offend the squeamish.


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