Shirley Jackson is a master story-teller and she makes it look so easy with this 1959 novel about a professor (Montague) studying paranormal activity who invites people to assist him in studying the phenomenon at Hill House. His way of finding assistants was to discover anyone still alive who’d had a brush with the abnormal, send them letters inviting them for the summer, and reply to their replies with detailed directions. Out of a dozen prospects, only two show up: Eleanor Vance and Theodora. Joining Montague is a member of the family who owns the house, Luke.
Luxuriate in how we first meet Eleanor:
Eleanor Vance was thirty-two years old when she came to Hill House. The only person in the world she genuinely hated, now that her mother was dead, was her sister. She disliked her brother-in-law and her five-year-old niece, and she had no friends… She could not remember ever being truly happy in her adult life; her years with her mother had been built up devotedly around small guilts and small reproaches, constant weariness, and unending despair.
The four of them arrive separately to Hill House, grapple with the gatekeeper and meet the formidable housekeeper who leaves before dark every day. It becomes creepier by the day and within a week, Eleanor is ushered out for her own safety, so she intentionally wrecks her car into a tree in the driveway before she’s past the gates. She’s the one who’s been adding to the haunting of the house, writing on walls and generally scaring people.