Estella Society Read-along: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

HillHouseReadalong

I read The Haunting of Hill House for the first time directly after college. I remember enjoying the book, but I didn’t recall many of the details. I knew I wanted to revisit this Shirley Jackson classic, but I’ve been putting it off for quite a while to wait for the “right time”. I am so glad Heather suggested we read this book for The Estella Society, because I got so much more out of my rereading. Since several people are posting about this book today I will skip a giant rehash of the plot and provide the GoodReads blurb:

“First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.”

Now at this point I’d like to boot out everyone who has NOT read The Haunting of Hill House. SCRAM. We’re about to play literary twinsie and if you haven’t read the book you won’t get the connection and it will spoil your read.
Go on, go READ THE BOOK.
Now then *picks up coffee cup* let’s chat book twins.
The Haunting of Hill House and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar could be twins (maybe not identical twins, but definitely fraternal). If you haven’t read The Bell Jar then, 1) you are missing out and 2) this conversation will hopefully entice those of you who enjoyed Hill House to read Plath’s novel.
I am going to be very brief and skim the surface with this analysis because when Sam is done with school I am applying for graduate school and this idea is in my stash of possible thesis/graduate paper topics (yes, I am a dork). I also feel like I should read The Bell Jar again along with another read of The Haunting of Hill House to fully solidify my ideas. For now I’m just going to create a list of similarities for your pontification.

  • Hill House and The Bell Jar were written during the same time period. Hill House was published in 1959 and The Bell Jar was published in 1963.
  • Both novels concern young, unmarried women. Eleanor (Hill House) is in her early thirties, but seems to be stuck in emotional adolescence and Esther (The Bell Jar) is in her late teens / college aged.
  • During this post-WWII, pre-second wave feminism era women struggled with balancing their desire for marriage and family with wanting independence and freedom. Esther (BJ) talks about a large fig tree with giant figs rotting off as representing different life paths and everything is rotting away because she cannot chose one thing. Eleanor (HH) wants to be cherished and loved, but also struggles with wanting her own space and to make her own decisions.
  • Both heroines have odd, enmeshed relationships with their mothers. Both Esther and Eleanor want to escape the control their mothers have, yet both daughters seem dependent on maternal approval and struggle to present a perfect, mom-approved, and well-put together façade.
  • Both heroines lie for no reason. Esther lies to a sailor about her name and her life and Eleanor lies about having an apartment. Each woman is presenting a false life to others. Each woman is also extremely adept at imagining themselves as living the life of another.
  • Lesbian frenemies. Yes, you read that right. Esther becomes sort of friends with Joan, a girl from her university. Joan ends up having a “close friendship” (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) with another asylum patient. Eleanor and Theo vacillate from friendship to hating each other. It is implied (and more explicitly stated in the film, The Haunting) that Theo is a lesbian and it both fascinates and horrifies Eleanor.
  • Madness or nah? Shirley Jackson maintains that The Haunting of Hill House is a ghost story (I’m still looking for citation information to confirm that) and The Bell Jar is certainly a story about a mentally ill college girl. However, the reader can link these two together because the supernatural has always been viewed as madness. Esther tries to commit suicide, but Eleanor either commits suicide or dies by supernatural intervention. Who can say what ended Eleanor’s life? Other “madness” narratives have elements of haunting, spirits or horror: The Turn of the Screw, The Victorian Chaise-Longue, The Yellow Wallpaper, and Jane Eyre. When women don’t fit in and have no space or acceptance allowing them to be their true selves they become alienated, cut-off, otherworldly.

Eleanor and Esther are haunted. Perhaps Eleanor is the only one haunted by the supernatural, but Eleanor and Esther are both haunted by not having a place to belong and be valued by society. In fact the opening line from The Haunting of Hill House could very easily been lifted from The Bell Jar, “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.”

Classics Club Spin: The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

the-secret-keeper

Last week I finished my Classics Club Spin book, The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. I decided to be a rebel and read a book that wasn’t a classic because at the time I was already reading a ton of classics. This is my second Kate Morton book; I read The House at Riverton in 2010.

The Secret Keeper begins with 16 year old Laurel daydreaming over a boy in her childhood tree house. What was supposed to be a lovely family birthday party for her 2-year old baby brother, Gerry, turns into a bloody family secret when Laurel witnesses her mother stabbing a stranger to death (not a spoiler, I promise) in view of the tree house. The matter is hushed up and the family never discusses that day. Life goes on and it isn’t until Laurel’s aging mother, Dorothy, is dying that Laurel feels the need to find out the truth about the murdered stranger and her mother’s enigmatic past. The story that unfurls involves the World War II blitz, love, loss, and two women — Dorothy and her friend, Vivien.

Let me start out by saying I really enjoyed this novel. Truly. When I closed the book for the last time I sat in my chair for a minute just contemplating what a marvelous read I enjoyed. The historical detail is spot on. The characters feel truly human and I was completely invested in their lives, stories, and secrets. The writing style pulled me in and it almost felt like a Sarah Waters novel, like a slightly less polished, less dark Sarah Waters.

However, while I like the writing and characters I did have some issues with the plot. First of all there is a PLOT TWIST and I guessed said PLOT TWIST less than fifty pages into the book. I resisted the inclination to race through the novel to see if I was correct. Instead, I read plot spoilers, ascertained that I was 100% correct, and then continued to read and enjoy the path to the end I knew was coming. Secondly — and this is what I think makes it not as good as a Sarah Waters novel — everything ends ridiculously neat and tidy. I read several reviews that voiced this issue, but in different ways. Some readers have issues with Laurel’s research being so productive. I do not have an issue with that. Laurel’s research is not aided by a series of convenient coincidences (well, not entirely). I do believe that if you read the right books and look thoroughly in libraries and places important to your research subject you will turn-up the information you need if it exists. Anyone who works in a library (like I do) can attest to the joys of research paying off. I do take issue with the neat ending to the characters lives. Life is messy. Love and war are especially messy. Each character in the book has a neat and tidy end. We know exactly what happened and why it happened and every character gets “what they deserved” to a certain extent. One character has a sad ending. She was unlikable, but I could sympathize with her and knew it was the only ending available for this sort of character. Her end, however, made the story even more annoyingly tidy.

Despite the over-neat ending and plot twist predictability, this book had depth and left me thinking about motherhood. Specifically, I thought about motherhood through a child’s eyes. I can remember being in my late teens and realizing that my mother was a person. I had always viewed her as the person who loved me, read stories aloud, cooked dinner, and chatted with my dad over a cup of coffee. Everything my mom did, every decision she made, was viewed by me as having “mom” reasons. For example,I thought mom read all those books and took all those trips to the library so I would be smart and I didn’t even think about how mom may have done it for that reason, but really it was because she loved books and libraries. When I was about nineteen — and pregnant with Hope — I realized that my mother was so much more than a mom. Hopes, dreams, secrets, insecurities, hobbies, passions, opinions… my mom had this entire other life outside of being mom and it completely blew my mind. The Secret Keeper is a journey to find the answers to a brutal killing, but it is also Laurel’s journey and wonderment and learning who Dorothy is outside of her role as mother. In the end, mysteries are solved when Laurel remembers her mom as Dorothy, and not just mom. It made me think about how my kids view me and my past. I want them to know — especially my daughters — that all moms have other lives. We’re more than moms and our life experiences, joys, sorrows, and learning make us into the mothers we are today.
I was torn with how best to rate this novel. I give it four out of five stars for writing and character development and three out of five stars for plot, 3.5 sounds just about right.

Works in Progress: Making Plans

works in progress

Remember this over-zealous project plan? Ha! I have completed nary a project on that list. I don’t feel too badly, because that this was designed when we weren’t planning on moving until the next year. I may have given up on knitting, stitching, and crafting, but I accomplished so much more. I held a ginormous yard sale, sold all my appliances, cleaned out the entire basement and all the closets, culled 450 books, organized my recipes and cookbooks, and created memory boxes for each kid with every little memento filed away. I did all of this while working, transitioning kids to new schools/classes, and handling Sam moving to part-time work. I feel like I need a medal, a vacation, or both. At the very least a cookie. Yes, a cookie….

I digress.

Anyhoo. Let’s move on to Autumn Projects. I’m documenting here so I can laugh at myself in a few months and marvel that I every thought I could get stuff done. Onward!

September:

–Persy’s blanket: I am literally only 20 rows away from finishing Persy Jane’s blanket. If I don’t finish by September 1st I’m throwing it the back of my closet and I’ll finish it for some future grandkid.

–Stitches embroidery project: I cannot decide if I like or hate this project (no pics, cause its a surprise for someone). If it isn’t done by the end of the month I’m putting it away. I’m just sick of it. Probably because I started it when I was pregnant with Atticus FOUR YEARS AGO.

October:
–Atticus’s granny square blanket: Atticus is in a toddler bed, but will soon be in a “big boy” bed. This is a Christmas gift for little man so I need to get to cracking on it. It should whip-up fairly easily.
–Atticus’s Christmas stocking: I’m nearly done with his embroidery on this stocking.
–Halloween costumes: I haven’t blogged about this, but Sam and I have some grim financial times ahead of us (at least until January). Hence we are making Halloween costumes and by making I mean with stuff we already have. There will be no trips to JoAnn’s for supplies. Maybe we could all dress up as the working poor!? (oh wait, not a costume).
–Atticus’s Fourth Birthday Party: There will be a Hulk pinata (homemade) and that is awesome.

November:
–Knitted Scarf: Xmas gift
–Knitted Cowl: Xmas gift
–Persy’s stocking: I need to embroider her stocking — the entire thing. I haven’t even cut out the stocking yet!
–Finish Stockings: Line and sew the three kids’ stockings.

I think this is all doable. I may be cash poor, but I  have time, yarn, and thread and that makes me happy.

List Love: Ten Books for Autumn

photograph by Amanda Bowman, creative commons license

photograph by Amanda Bowman, creative commons license

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday is a favorite — seasonal TBR list! Below I’ve listed my TBR for the Autumn and my goal is to have these books completed by December 1st. Note — this list does not include the titles I’m assembling for read-a-thon!

  1.  The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
  2. The Collected Ghost Stories of M R James
  3. Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey
  4. White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
  5. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
  6. Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir
  7. Consequences by E.M. Delafield
  8. Secret Rooms: A True Story of a Haunted Castle, a Plotting Duchess, and a Family Secret by Catherine Bailey
  9. The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope
  10. The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Now I have my list, I have a my cocoa, and I have some cooler nights to curl up at home with a book. Perfection.

Readerly Rambles: The Read-a-thon Sign-up Post!

 

I’m really looking forward to Dewey’s 24-hour Read-a-thon this October. I love the April Read-a-thon, but the October Read-a-thon is my absolute favorite. Autumn finds me gravitating towards classics, mysteries, and gothic-themed novels and my read-a-thon pile always reflects my current reading mood. Pouring a mug of cocoa and losing myself in a ghost story collection for the day is my idea of bliss.

In fact, I’ve hit on a brilliant idea. I’m going to theme each read-a-thon. The one downside to read-a-thon — and it is a monster of my own making — is that I get overwhelmed by choices. I make piles of short books and graphic novels. I promise to chip away at that Victorian chunkster. I swear that I will spend less time deciding what to read and more time reading. Fail. Fail. Fail. At the end I usually end up slightly disappointed in my progress and wishing I had a way to tie everything together.

OMG. Yes. Themed Read-a-thon. I decided that October will almost always be spooky, but this year I am whittling that theme down even more. My inspiration stuck when I was in the library stacks and saw this book:

wpid-cam01706.jpg

Yes, a juvenile spooky series illustrated by Edward Gorey. That triggered a few other ideas in my head related to Edward Gorey and literature and thus I arrived at the idea of having an Edward Gorey-themed Read-a-thon. Now, it won’t be ALL Edward Gorey as I have a delicious stack of graphic novels to read. The bulk of my reading, however, will some how tie into Edward Gorey and I am having so much fun creating the book list.

Other October ideas for the future include books with “owl” in the title or cover art, classics with movie adaptations, vampires or ghosts, or maybe vintage crime novels. In the spring I tend to gravitate towards fairy tales, myths, and children’s literature and that will be a fun list to create as well.

I’m super-excited about this year and I hope you all will join in. Details are here!