The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Probably one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read, and that’s saying something, because I love ghost stories. The Haunting of Hill House is effective because it doesn’t actually show any ghosts, there are no murderers chasing anyone, no demons possessing souls, no vampires sucking blood, no monsters under the bed. There is just the house, which both epitomizes and contains what we should call pure evil.

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I remember reading this book one very hot summer when I was in my early 20s, sitting outside on a shaded patio while the sun blazed overhead. Not a remotely scary environment in which to read a ghost story, and yet I was totally freaked out reading this book. Every noise made me jump, every shadow in my peripheral vision seemed threatening, and I ended up sleeping with the lamp on that night.

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What’s interesting in this book is the house itself is a character. It has as many characteristics as the four people who come to stay in it for a week, studying the supernatural environment Hill House is known for and hoping to evoke otherwordly occurrences. Boy, do they!  The main character, Eleanor, around whom the novel revolves, is probably one of the more irritating characters in literature. She’s an interesting character study if you can get past her annoyingness, though. Is she insane? Is she psychic? Is everyone in the house having a collective supernatural hallucination? Is Eleanor as alienated as she feels, or is she just super self-centered? My God, I wanted to smack her at times! Perhaps readers are supposed to feel sorry for her, yet when she took off up that spiral staircase and made everyone chase her, I found myself snapping at her  “Pull your head out of your ass, woman!”

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Early in the book, as Eleanor makes her way toward Hill House and her fate, she loses herself in imaginings about what her life will be like going forward. She passes a lovely house in a town with stone lions outside, and daydreams of her life there, being waited upon and  served meals.

A little dainty old lady took care of me, moving starchily with a silver tea service on a tray and bringing me a glass of elderberry wine each evening for my health’s sake. I took my dinner alone in the long, quiet dining room at the gleaming table……..I dined upon a bird, and radishes from the garden, and homemade plum jam.

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I wanted to recreate this simple-sounding meal in my own style, but I wasn’t about to go full-on Martha Stewart and make my own plum jam. So I did a little research and found this recipe for roasted chicken with plums, which is Persian in origin with the sumac seasoning, and that sounded marvelous. I added a few of my own touches,using chicken thighs instead of a whole bird, roasting and caramelizing lemons with the plums, and because I am all about roasting vegetables, alongside the chicken I served sliced radishes seasoned with olive oil, garlic and lemon zest.

This is the method that worked for me.

INGREDIENTS
For the chicken:
12 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on
2 lemons , quartered
2 tablespoons ground sumac, found at Middle Eastern groceries or click here
2 tablespoons ground allspice
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
Zest of 1 whole lemon
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Sea salt and ground black pepper
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup fruity wine, red or white. I actually used a rose wine.

For the plums:
2 red or black plums, cut into chunks
2 shallots, finely diced
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
Olive oil
Sea salt and ground black pepper

METHOD

Make sure your birds are at room temperature. Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Lay your chicken thighs skin-side up in a large roasting pan. Mix the sumac, allspice, cinnamon, lemon zest, minced garlic salt and pepper together in a bowl, add the olive oil and pour this over the chicken. Add the lemon, pour over the wine, cover and cook for 1 and 1/2 hours.

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Chop up the plums into rough chunks and mix with the sliced shallots, cinnamon, allspice, salt, pepper, the honey, and olive oil. Mix together and let the flavors combine.

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Add the plums to the chicken during the last 30 minutes  of cooking at 350F, and leave them in when you increase the heat and bronze the thighs at 450F.

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Remove the foil from the chicken, turn up the oven to 450F, and cook for another 30 minutes so the bird pieces get bronze and the skin crisps up. When you remove the chicken for the last time to cool before serving, give a final stir so that cooked plums mingle with the flavors of the bird, the lemon, and all the spices and seasonings. Let rest, and serve with the lemon-zested roasted radishes. A marvelous dish! Exotic, subtle flavors and somewhat complex, with just a hint of the Casbah, yet familiar enough to taste comfortingly of home.

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17 thoughts on “The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

  1. …forgive my ignorance but never heard of the book, though likely it’s one I’ll read shortly…not so much for the notion of genre, not any personal direction, but… the house as a character. Some years ago a friend sent me her novel manuscript which used a house itself as narrator…no, though the idea and ideas within were promising, ambitious as well, maybe their execution not as yet… cooked and combined enough to actually plate. Partially because – that voice, of the house itself, was rather like the Eleanor described, except much more emotional. The house itself wasn’t Persian but Middle Eastern and relatively ancient, for a house, and the recipes mentioned appropriately… casbah-ish (though mixed ethnicities of all those inhabitants over time, with one family however dominating most.) Thanks for the information.

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    1. I saw the reviews for the TV show as well. I initially was not attracted because it seemed so different from the original book but I can’t continue to hear fantastic reviews so I think I’m going to have to give it a try.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Funny, I have never read this book. I have seen bits and pieces of the movie, I think. I’m a little creeped out just thinking about it, lol! But this dinner would make it all better. What a lovely combination of flavors.

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    1. It’s really an excellent read. No blood or Gore, just pure supernatural and psychological terror. I think you’ll enjoy it. And I definitely encourage you to try the chicken. It was an unexpected combination of flavors but it was delicious.

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  3. I forgot about this book, so thanks for the reminder. It’s perfect to read this time of year. Did you ever see the black and white film version? I don’t know if that was creepier than the book, but they are both really good. And I thought Eleanor Vance was pretty irritating too, so glad I’m not alone! The chicken looks super yum, and I’d never thought to add plums. Bet it tasted so good!

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    1. Thank you, yeah the chicken was really good. unusual combination of flavors, but it really worked. I always start the Halloween season either reading this book or seeing the movie. Looks like I’m not the only one either. 😁👻

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