Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House

Book Cover

Title: The Haunting of Hill House
Author: Shirley Jackson
Genre: Horror, Literary
Date of Publication: 1959
Publisher: Penguin Classics, among others


Synopsis

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, the 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.Goodreads

My Thoughts

It’s hard to separate out the four appeal elements for this book, because they’re all so interwoven and dependent on one another.  But I’ll try! 

Language

Jackson’s style of writing is clearly the primary appeal for this novel. This is a classic for a reason, and there is significant imagery and symbolism in everything that appears on the pages. The novel begins with somewhat of a light tone, talking about the house and the darkness within it, but as the story progresses, this lightness is swallowed by darkness, and the tension rises with every turn of the page.  A lot of the horror of this novel is not in what happens, but in how it is written. Jackson has a way of eliciting fear and dread in the reader, just by careful word choice and sentence structure.

Setting 

Set in an old house that’s so peculiarly built that it rivals the Winchester Mansion in California, the setting is what makes this novel so memorable. The house is described not in just physical terms, but also in the way that it makes people feel.  The history of the house and everything else has so much thought and care put into it that it feels more fleshed out than the main characters. And that’s because it is its own character.  

Plot

This novel has a slow pace, particularly at the beginning, but the language is so beautiful and engaging that I didn’t even notice.  That isn’t to say that nothing happens, but it happens at its own pace, and the plot isn’t at all rushed. We don’t get one of those books where so much happens at the beginning that it lags in the middle. The Haunting of Hill House has the opposite effect, where it begins slowly, taking its time to get where it wants to go, but the plot unravels quicker and quicker as the story progresses. I would say that if you have a hard time getting into the story, you should give it another shot, because the book just keeps getting better and better.

Characters

I was surprised by how funny this book was. The characters are witty, and some of the things they say serve to transform them into three-dimensional, relatable characters that could exist today, not only sixty years ago. Some of the imagery made me laugh out loud, particularly in the beginning of the book when Eleanor leaves to find Hill House, and she steals her sister’s car.  While this book is quite short, I felt that I really connected with Eleanor, and her character development (at the risk of spoiling anything) is quite fascinating and beautifully facilitated by Jackson’s firm grasp of the written word.

The Haunting of Hill House

I recommend this book to literally anyone who claims to be a fan of haunted house stories. 

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Goodreads | Amazon

Book Review: Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara

Djinn Patrol

Djinn Patrol book cover

Title: Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line
Author: Deepa Anappara
Genre: Literary
Date of Publication: February 4, 2020
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart


Synopsis

Set in Metropolitan India, this atmospheric novel follows Jai and his two friends as they search for their missing classmate.  Obsessed with a police television show, Jai is convinced that he will be able to find the boy, even when the police themselves are indifferent about the case. As more and more children go missing, however, it becomes clear that there is something insidious going on, and Jai’s life will be forever changed by the events that unfold…

My Thoughts

This book is beautifully written. The words seem to leap off the page, creating a dynamic, three-dimensional image of metropolitan India. It felt like I was actually there.  The language, while beautiful, can be hard to follow at first, as Anappara uses many Indian words in casual conversation. While the meaning of the words can be discerned from context, I wish I’d noticed the glossary at the end of the e-book before reading the story.  That said, I don’t think not knowing the exact meaning of words impacted my enjoyment of their use.

The protagonist is a child named Jai, and his entire world is tinted by rose-coloured glasses. He has an innocent and naive perception of everything that goes on around him, which is demonstrated through both his observations and the prose.

The book mostly comes from Jai’s point of view, but we also get scenes from the missing children – their last memories before they disappear. This in itself is heartbreaking, particularly after reading the author’s afterword.  180 children go missing every year in India, which is a shocking statistic that makes the words on these pages even more poignant.

My favourite parts of this book were the parts where Jai’s friend, Faiz, would state that the djinn were stealing the souls of the children. Brought up casually in conversation, I think this served several important purposes. It added a supernatural air of mystery to the story and it reinforced our perception of these children’s innocence, but it also created a beautiful metaphor for the true malignant cause of the disappearances.

This book is marketed as a mystery, but I disagree.  From the description on Goodreads, I’d gotten the impression that it was about a group of children searching for their lost friend, and that it would read similarly to Stranger Things or The Goonies. This isn’t the case. Jai is compelled to search for the missing boy that he barely knew.  The story is not at all plot driven. It is primarily setting and character driven, and the focus isn’t at all on his search. While his friends are three-dimensional characters in this story, I never got the feeling that they have an unbreakable bond and would go to the ends of the earth to find each other should one of them go missing.  The story itself doesn’t carry with it a sense of hope that I prefer to see in coming of age stories. It’s more of a harsh removal of the rose-coloured glasses, and we see the world for what it really is.  Gloomy.

Djinn Patrol

I recommend this book for someone wanting to get lost in the streets of Metropolitan India.  This is a coming of age story more than a mystery, and it delivers a powerful commentary on a true story, and how tragedy can shape an entire community.

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* Thank you to NetGalley and McClelland & Stewart for the arc to review! *

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Book Review: Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal

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book cover

Title: Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?
Author: Frans de Waal
Genre: Non-Fiction
Date of Publication: May 10, 2016
Publisher: W. W. Norton Company


~ My Thoughts ~

I loved this book. In my undergraduate degree, I only had space for a few electives, and one of the classes I took was “Primate Behaviour”. In this course, we were required to read two Franz de Waal books: Chimpanzee Politics and Our Inner Ape. Usually when I’m “forced” to read something, I don’t enjoy it–whether it’s because I don’t have the time to enjoy it or because I’m contrary that way is besides the point. My point is that I genuinely loved these books, so much that I’m continuing to read de Waal’s publications even after university.

One thing I love about de Waal’s books is that they’re so accessible to the general public, but not at the sacrifice of accuracy or including information about scientific process. He talks about things in layman’s terms, making them fun and engaging, all the while teaching the reader a ton of information on the topic.  As you may already know, I’m a librarian, and I do a lot of instruction in my job. In the ACRL’s Information Literacy Framework, one of the frames is “Scholarship as Conversation”. I doubt it’s even intentional in de Waal’s books, but the way he effortlessly talks about other researchers’ work and discoveries, how they contributed to general knowledge, how he himself has built off previous studies does a great job of showing how this conversation goes on in his field, and in science in general.

As for the contents of this book, I’ve learned so many things that I can use in casual conversation (though it depends on who you’re talking to). Anytime I see a crow I tell anyone who’ll listen about how they recognize human faces and hold grudges for generations.  

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I highly recommend this book to those who are interested in animal behaviour (not just apes in this book, but a variety of species), and to those who want to crack into reading nonfiction science books but aren’t sure of where to start.

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Goodreads | Amazon