Posts Tagged ‘haunting of hill house’

“Reading Robert Aickman is like watching a magician work, and very often I’m not even sure what the trick was.  All I know is that he did it beautifully.”-  Neil Gaiman

Recently, I came across a mention of Robert Aickman again.  He was  a horror writer I’d hear about every once in awhile, certainly not as famous as many of his contemporaries.  A writer’s writer, it would seem.  The twentieth century’s “most profound writer of what we call horror stories”- according to Peter Straub.

Yet, he certainly has his critics as well, his stories being described as too obscure.

Curious to finally read him and form my own opinion, I picked up a copy of Dark Entries.

The first story within, “The School Friend” begins, “It would be false modesty to deny that Sally Tessler and I were the bright girls in school.” And so, an older Mel reflects upon how she met one of her oldest girlfriends.  Only a few pages in, I was hit by this doozy of a line.  “I was able to construe Latin fairly well for a girl, but the italics and long s’s daunted me.” Really? I recalled how once another woman mentioned she’d been reading a work with a female main character which happened to have  been written by a man.  Everything was fine and believable until the writer had the character make reference to her period by calling it, “my menstruation.”  Because no woman talks like that.  I had a similar feeling here because I doubt there is any female who thinks to herself, “wow! I can do this pretty well, you know, even though, I’m like, only a girl.”

Okay, so Mr. Aickman wasn’t going to win any POV awards for this, but I tried to put that aside and concentrate on the rest of the story.

Forty-one year old Mel comes into contact with her old friend after decades apart when Sally returns to their hometown after the death of her father.  A man who “never went out”, and who received a doctorate for an unknown subject.   Sally, herself, was always odd- living to work and revealing very little about her private life.

Now Sally has moved back in her father’s old house.  One that Mel describes as, “entirely commonplace, and in the most unpleasing fashion.”  After her friend suffers an accident, Mel is asked to look after the place.  To her surprise, she discovers every room is kept locked; there is one chain with numerous keys to open each one.

What Mel discovers inside the house is difficult to say even after one has finished the story, and my initial reaction was one of disappointment.  Some ambiguity is fine.  Were Miles and Flora really haunted in The Turn of the Screw, or was their governess mad?  What exactly did Eleanor and Theodora see in The Haunting of Hill House?

But here, it felt like full pages had been ripped out.  As though the author was being lazy, here you do the work.  I’ll just sit back and appear clever.

Yet, the story stayed with me, and I recalled hearing how Aickman’s stories begged to be reread.  In doing so, I did notice more things- said and unsaid- that had escaped my initial notice.

I’m not yet settled on how I feel about this particular little strange story, but it continues to gnaw.

Fritz Leiber: “Robert Aickman has a gift for depicting the eerie areas of inner space, the churning storms and silent overcasts that engulf the minds of lonely and alienated people. He is a weatherman of the subconscious.”

dark entries cover

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nine of swords

Being caught up in a nightmare.  Emotional and mental problems.  Internal issues rather than external.  Projecting one’s fears onto the world.  Self-fulfilled prophecies.

hauntingjulieharris

THE HAUNTING BLACKBOXCLUB 90

nine of wands

Strong work ethic.  Stalwartness.  Refusal to give up one’s duties and responsibilities.   Commitment

nine of cups

Pleasures and indulgement.   Basking in simple luxuries.  Dashes of selfishness.

nine of pentacles

Refinement.  Maturity.  Age.  Material wealth.  Comfort with self.

the-big-circus-vincent-price-1959-everett– Vincent Price

*all Tarot images from The Bohemian Gothic Tarot

Hangsaman

Thanks to Penguin Classics, many of Shirley Jackson’s long out of print eary novels are being reprinted. Written in 1951, Jackson’s second novel, Hangsaman ,is a coming of age tale with the psychological hauntings one finds in her later works. Lacking the subtle, but unnerving chills of The Haunting of Hill House, or the macabre humor of We’ve Always Lived in the Castle, the novel rather foretells the greatness to come.

The book revolves around Natalie Waite- a young woman with a vivid imagination, whose father is training her to be a writer. Stressed by her father who seems to want to turn her into a mirror image of himself, and terrified of becoming like her neurotic mother, Natalie seeks her own identity inside of daydreams.

But a traumatizing event occurs which nearly shatters her already fragile persona.

“The danger is here, in here, ” Natalie thinks, “just as they stepped inside and were lost in the darkness.” Assaulted shortly before going away to college, she admonishes herself, “I don’t remember, nothing happened, nothing that I remember happened.”

Determined to move on, Natalie enters the liberal college with enthusiasm, but soon finds herself surrounded by cliques, hazing, and petty cruelities. Snubbed by the other girls, she slips further and further into her own mind until the reader wonders how much is of her own willing, her imagination- or whether she is truly suffering from mental illness.

“Remember, too, that without you I could not exist: there can be no father without a daughter. You have thus a double responsibility, for my existence and your own. If you abandon me, you lose yourself,” her father writes in one of his letters to her.

It is shortly thereafter that she begins to wonder if she is real at all. ”Perhaps- and this was her most persistent thought, the thought that stayed with her and came suddenly to trouble her at odd moments, and to comfort her- suppose, actually, she were not Natalie Waite, college girl, daughter to Arthur Waite, a creature of deep lovely destiny; suppose she were someone else?”

The only one who understands Natalie, and shares her visions of the world, is the strange girl named Tony whom she befriends. Ethereal ,and cryptic in speech, it is up to the reader to decide whether Tony is real or not.

“Will you come somewhere with me?” Tony asks her. ”It’s a long way.”

Whether Tony is an imaginary friend or not, hardly matters, for it is Natalie’s trust in her, and/or in herself that gives her the courage to embark on a surreal trip through the city and into the woods where she faces her greatest fear- being alone- and comes out triumphant.

Elegiac, yet also brimming with an undercurrent of optimism by its engaging protagonist, Hangsaman unfortunately falls short of what Ms. Jackson semed to be aiming for. Elements of it working better than the whole. A fantastic read for people already fans of Jackson, but not a good place to start.