As part of my on-going efforts to figure out how to construct a haunted house story that satisfies me, I’m rereading Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. I’m about halfway through it and I’m really struck by a couple of things. First is how much, this time, I was more sympathetic to Eleanor’s sister and husband. The first time I read it, I felt more sympathy for Eleanor being stuck taking care of her mother while her sister got to get married and have kids. But there’s less, this time, to suggest that her sister somehow stuck Eleanor in that position. The other is just how much making things up there is at the beginning, how often Eleanor is daydreaming or the four people in the house are telling tall tales about their origins.
One thing I think is really brilliant is how Jackson tells you that the trick of the house is that none of the angles are right angles and the dis-ease the house causes is, at some level, because of your brain perceiving as straight, right angles, things that are crooked.
And then she plops you right into the point of view of someone whose corners also don’t meet square, so to speak. But she leaves that to you to decide whether you’re going to keep that fact at the front of your mind as you read.