Dr. Montague is an occult scholar who believes that he has found in Hill House the perfect place to document and study paranormal activity. He plans to stay there for several months with a few other people, keeping detailed notes about his findings and experiences. He is asked to have Luke, the heir to Hill House, accompany him, and he selects two others, Theodora and Eleanor, as his assistants. Theodora is a vibrant artist who may or may not be psychic - in laboratory tests she was able to identify fifteen or more cards out of twenty without being able to see them. As a child, Eleanor experienced a three-day incident in which stones showered upon her home's roof for no apparent reason.
I read this because I wanted a good "haunted house" story. It started off strong, if a bit slow. I liked the image of Eleanor as some who had broken free, however briefly, from the cage of her home and family. She'd spent a good deal of her life caring for her ailing mother, and after her mother's death she was forced to live under her sister's thumb. Just starting her journey to Hill House was a tremendous ordeal for her.
Eleanor and Theodora's arrivals at Hill House were great, and underscored one thing that came up repeatedly in the book,
the importance of characters' perceptions of their surroundings. When Eleanor arrived at Hill House, it was an inherently monstrous and evil place, and Dudley's antagonism and Mrs. Dudley's creepiness only enhanced that interpretation. When Theodora arrived, however, Hill House immediately became more tolerable, and Mrs. Dudley's recitation might as well have been a recording for all the notice Theodora and Eleanor took of it.
While the characters, Hill House's history, and the tour of Hill House were interesting enough, I started to get impatient as the pages went by and still nothing had happened as far as the haunting aspect went. I enjoyed the supernatural activities once they finally started up, but I wish it hadn't taken quite so long,
approximately half the book.
It's been several weeks and I'm still not sure how I feel about how things turned out. It wasn't entirely a surprise, but I still ended up looking at the last few pages and thinking "Really? That's it?" I bet it'd be fun to debate what really happened during this group's stay at Hill House, though.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)
Considering the evening and night Theodora and Eleanor just had, I can imagine what happened to the Crain sisters' relationship. Also, I have questions about the horrible little book Luke just found. It was from Hugh Crain to one of his daughters. Which daughter, and did he ever give the other one a similar book? Or maybe he never gave the other one anything, which just made everything worse somehow. I flipped back to see if the sisters were ever named, but it looks like the doctor only ever called them "the older sister" and "the younger sister."