Thursday, August 7, 2008

Haunting of Hill House, False Dawn, Metamorphoses

I finished listening to Shirley Jackson's Haunting of Hill House a couple of days ago. Aside from all the interesting things you can say about her character development and style, the ending is very exciting -- I couldn't wait to have some commuting time to myself, and ended up listening to the last 20 minutes at home. This was a nice bonus from a ghost story is mostly cerebral.

The novel, about four people who decide to research a haunted house for the summer, focuses on Eleanor, the most obviously-troubled of the 4. Pushed around by her mother and sister, Eleanor doesn't like where she is in life, but is too insecure to strike out on her own. The camaraderie of the four Hill House sojourners seduces her into thinking she has found a new family, but, at the same time, she's constantly afraid that they're talking about her behind her back. The house plays on these twin issues, until she has a complete breakdown -- but is the house itself a malevolent force, or is it just Eleanor's belief that drives her. It's certainly easy to read the novel as implying that the house is a force on its own (and we know that Jackson believed in haunted houses), but there are a number of clues that things aren't so simple.

When the 5th and 6th characters show up, they are completely unaffected by any of the goings-on in the house. Not only that, but when they investigate the house's most physical manifestation, (the writing on the wall in Theodora's room), it's not there -- is this an implication that the group suffered from a mass hysteria? I'm not one who likes to find the rational reason behind every event in a fantasy story, but here I think the more interesting reading is that Eleanor drives herself to madness, and that the house is a non-actor.

I also read False Dawn, but James Levine, and I wish I hadn't. His worst book; 'nuff said.

I've started on book 3 of the Metamorphoses, dealing in the founding of Thebes (and no actual metamorphoses yet). I'm really loving Ovid's use of the meter, switching between dactyls and spondees to wonderful effect. In this respect at least, I much prefer him to Vergil.