South Park Self

no live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality

Lordy, I'm tired. The last few weeks have represented a steadily-mounting degree of fatigue which has made me progressively slower, more irritable and more prone to talk in the husky contralto of someone who's spent the night imbibing whisky and cigarettes and is losing noun control badly. As I keep saying to students as I grope for words, I'm not actually drunk. I'd just like to be. And I have another week of this. I suspect it may be survivable, but only just.

Exhaustion tends to detach me a little from reality, to make everything just that little bit surreal or malignant. It's this state that has, I think, made me so receptive to reading Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, which has struck me forcibly as a truly chilling and effective ghost story with resonances of Henry James and Sheridan Lefanu and (oddly) Lovecraft. It seems bizarre and unlikely that, up until about a month ago, I'd never actually heard of it, since it was published in 1959, and is apparently a classic of the literary ghost genre. With one of those odd and possibly sinister synchronicities, it's popped up in mentions across several unrelated blogs that I read, and I ordered a copy in a spirit of enquiry.

It's an incredibly effective book. While operating as a classic haunted-house narrative, it's more about personalities than anything else - the personalities of the occupants of the house (Eleanor, in particular, is exquisitely drawn), and above all of the house itself. Like Turn of the Screw, it slides you backwards and forwards between belief in the manifestations and belief in the insane perceptions of the characters; like LeFanu, it's about the gradual building of atmosphere and implication into perfectly-poised moments of horrified realisation and chill. And, like Lovecraft, it's about the power of the unseen, the inexplicable, the unexplained; it's all the more powerful because it's not a detective story, the mystery is never penetrated. It grabbed me good and proper; even in my current state of tiredness and stress I found myself staying up later than I should to read. I Recommend This Book, if you like chills, or if you like twisty psychological implications, or if you simply like good writing.

And in the midst of all the scary stuff, it has one of the most scathing and comic portrayals of spiritualistically-inclined insensitive stupidity that I've ever read.
  • Current Mood: amused tired but impressed
  • Current Music: David Bowie, Lodger
Yes, based on the novel, and apparently neither of the movies is much good, although the earlier is said (by Wikipedia at least) to be better than the remake. Liam Neeson notwithstanding. For an actually rather good actor he often has terrible taste in films.

Reading it, I could see why it would be horrible to translate into film: it's incredibly internal, about thoughts and reactions more than actual actions, even though there are some amazingly cinematic and creepy manifestations.
Psycho, Socio, Schizo
You write:-

"it's about the gradual building of atmosphere and implication into perfectly-poised moments of horrified realisation and chill."

I had a year of that and managed to escape. Do you feel like writing a book about it?

Cape Town.