New issue of Autopsies: this time Lisa Mannetti plays the role of Il Posto Nero coroner to dissect for us The Hauting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, one of the most famous ghost stories in the literature of the twentieth century:
State of the brain: the plot
At the behest of Dr. John Montague, a noted professor with a secret penchant for the supernatural, four people unknown to one another agree to spend a summer living in hugely decrepit old house in order to discover whether there is any basis in fact for its decades-old unsavory reputation. But logic breaks down quickly and they find themselves swept uncontrollably into a vortex of unexplainable events and terror. As Shirley Jackson writes, “Hill House [was] not sane.”
State of the heart: the pathos, the atmosphere
No author -before or since Jackson wrote her masterpiece- has created the sense of brooding malignancy embodied by Hill House. From the opening paragraphs to the final denouement nothing matches the sense of relentless dread that prevails in the book. The house -hideous, dark and built by a religious fanatic- shows itself to be sentient: It is always aware, watching...waiting...to pounce on the residents with the spiteful glee of a psychopath.
While the novel focuses mainly on psychological terror and the break down of sanity, Jackson did not stint on physical horror. Walls pulsate, children wail piteously, clothes mundanely stored in armoires are inexplicably drenched in gore, chalked names are found scrawled obscenely down the length of a gargantuan hallway. The back story is equally lush: governesses have hanged themselves, little girls have suffered isolation and torture, and death has marked the house from its very outset.
State of the lungs: the characters
Hill House, itself -massive, selfish and sly- dominates the novel, wielding the brute authority of a power-drunk prison guard who enjoys hurting inmates individually, then uses their pain and anguish to make them turn against each other. Here, two of the women have psychic abilities, but the house inexorably battens on Eleanor Vance, a spinster whose straitened circumstances have left her emotionally weakened and vulnerable. Jackson’s characters are so skillfully drawn that, for example, it is absolutely believable that Eleanor is both in love with Dr. Montague and may have shared sexual relations with Theodora.
The supernatural is the over-arching principle governing this book -and this is one of the most frightening tales ever written. Jackson’s work in fact, is seminal in and out of the horror genre, because her writing is as skillful as that of any classical author. Terror -as evoked by the supernatural- in Jackson’s book is both real and a metaphor for cataclysmic events that overwhelm us. Eleanor is possessed by whatever spirit holds sway in Hill House, but it’s more terrible still to contemplate her role in her own undoing. Ultimately she is both repulsed by and yet welcomes Hill House’s seduction -even though she knows she is nothing more than a tool serving its pathological needs and whims.
In just 247 pages, Shirley Jackson created a tale that is both simple and complex. The writing itself is so well done that you are literally pulled into this story and reeling by the end. Like the vertigo that nearly overtakes Eleanor, you realize you are in the presence of a force that is unstoppable and more powerful than you could have imagined. Dizzying -because, like Eleanor you’re caught off guard; and by then, it’s much too late.
Lisa Mannetti's debut novel, The Gentling Box, garnered a Bram Stoker Award. She has authored a macabre gag book, 51 Fiendish Ways to Leave your Lover, as well as non-fiction books, and numerous articles and short stories in newspapers, magazines, and anthologies. Recent and upcoming works (2010) include Resurgam in Dead Set: A Zombie Anthology; Condemned in Legends of the Mountain State 4; 1925: A Fall River Halloween in Shroud Magazine (Bram Stoker Award nominated) ; and Spy Glass Hill in Fear of the Dark Anthology. Her story, Everybody Wins was made into a short film by director Paul Leyden starring Malin Ackerman and released under the title Bye-Bye Sally. Her lastest work (2010) is Deathwatch, which collects two novellas, Dissolution Bram Stoker Award nominated (Long Fiction) and Sheila Na Gig. Lisa Mannetti is now writing her new novel, called The Everest Haunting. In October his story Castello 985 will be published in Italy in the collection Arkana - Nightmare Tales, edited by Alessandro Manzetti and Daniele Bonfanti (Il Posto Nero Free Ebooks) Lisa Mannetti Web Site
The Book: The Gentling Box
The philosophies of the Age of Enlightenment create sweeping changes throughout 19th Century Europe, but to Hungary's despised nomads, the gypsies, the world is still a dark and very dangerous landscape. Adversaries both mortal and supernatural lurk in the shadows, waiting to strike without mercy. Imre, a half-gypsy horse trader, understands the danger to his small family all too well. Cursed with a hideously-disfiguring and fatal disease by the vengeful sorceress Anyeta, he watches those around him suffer and fall. Mimi, his wife, who is tricked into cutting off her own arm to create a powerful talisman. His friend Constantin, struck mute by Anyeta's wrath. And Lenore, his and Mimi's young daughter, who has been placed in the greatest jeopardy of all. With his health deteriorating and death imminent, his wife possessed by the witch's ghost and Lenore being groomed for a fate far worse than death, Imre turns to desperate measures and a hellish memory from his childhood -to still the sorceress and end her reign of bloodshed. A presence even more powerful and terrifying to him than Anyeta: the gentling box.
Buy "Deatwatch" by L. Mannetti and "The Haunting of Hill House" by S. Jackson on Amazon