London, December 2018
Hill House coolly receives the arrival of four visitors: the occult scholar Dr. Montague searching for proof of psychic phenomena; Theodora, Eleanor and the heir to the estate, Luke. Warned early on by the chillingly eccentric housekeeper that she will not personally stay in the house at night, Eleanor enjoys the camaraderie – the notion of acceptance and excitement at having disobeyed her sensible sister.
Soon enough, events begin to take shape, Hill House no place for the living.
Like any psychopathic villain, Hill House quickly targets Eleanor as the most vulnerable and therefore easiest to break down. As the novella is told from Eleanor’s perspective, we lack the insight into how the other characters react to her decline, other than the odd effort at intervention between Eleanor and the house, which Eleanor is defensively quick to dismiss.
What we are privy to is Eleanor’s tragic belief that she belongs in the house, that it has chosen her where no one else had before. Filled with the desire to reach within the pages to shake her silly and set her free, the reader can do nothing but watch as she makes her final move to stay.
Spoilers loom ahead…
The last turn as Eleanor is bundled into her car by the other guests to leave but instead speeds towards the tree in front of the house is the most malicious act of the house yet, a fleeting moment of no return in which Eleanor questions why she has chosen a sequence that will end her life.
Built on a feeling of slow dread over shock scares, the presence within the house is never revealed or explained. The fear comes from the lack of control and increasing confusion. The house stars gently, doors closing one by one which Dr. Montague sees as encouraging – a problem to be solved. But then the banging starts at night, the men see a black dog stalk the corridors.
I still wake sometimes in the night and my mind reaches to Eleanor’s encounter in the bedroom she ended up sharing with Theodora where she’s comforted as the house terrorises her by holding hands with Theodora…only to wake and realise Theodora is in the other bed in the room.
The part that sets this aside as something truly special within the gothic genre is the scene on the pathway with Theodora; the terror as the two women run from something neither Eleanor nor the reader ever sees and yet pure fear translates out. Amazing.