ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel in Washington.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
SIEGEL: I'm sorry, Melissa.
BLOCK: That's okay. I'm Melissa Block at NPR West in California.
This week, many of you may find yourself celebrating Halloween by visiting a house that claims to be haunted. Well, now we offer two takes on the spooky house. First, a literary one.
Laura Miller is a book critic at Salon.com. And for our series Three Books, she recommends the stories of three houses with minds of their own.
LAURA MILLER: Houses can be bought and sold, but if nothing else, the current housing crisis teaches us the danger of treating a house as a mere commodity. Literature is full of reminders that houses have souls, and we forget that at our peril. In some novels, the house is as much a character as any of the people in the story. And when that happens, the human characters had better beware. It's all too easy to get lost in a house that has a mind of its own. Here are three of the most unforgettable.
Some houses are haunted by dead people, but in "Rebecca" by Daphne du Maurier, the people are haunted by the house. It's called Manderley, a bewitchingly beautiful estate on the coast of Cornwall, England. Everyone in the novel is obsessed with Manderley and with Rebecca de Winter, its late mistress. The novel's narrator, whose given name we never even learn, is the second Mrs. De Winter. A shy and gawky young bride, she's convinced that her husband is still in love with his glamorous first wife.
It doesn't help that the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, one of literature's great villains, keeps telling her how much better Rebecca was at being the mistress of Manderley. But Rebecca was not what she seemed, and Manderley's many secrets won't stay buried forever.
If Manderley is seductive, the supremely creepy New England mansion in Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House" is downright evil. What makes a house go bad? According to Jackson, some of them are just built that way. At Hill House, every apparently right angle is slightly off, certain doors won't stay closed or open and nothing is quite where you thought it would be.
The house is literally deranged, which may explain why so many of its former residents have killed themselves. Into this malevolent environment come four would-be ghost hunters, determined to capture evidence of the paranormal. Hill House, however, has other ideas, and like any natural predator, it sets its sights on the weakest member of the herd.
The house in Mark Danielewski's experimental novel "House of Leaves" is just as formidable, even if it doesn't have a name. It's an ordinary suburban home in Virginia, until the day its residents come back from vacation to find a closet where there was only a blank wall before. Precise measurements reveal the impossible: The house appears to be growing, becoming bigger on the inside than it was on the outside. A hallway opens out of the living room wall, leading into a seemingly infinite maze of dark rooms and passageways.
"House of Leaves" is the latest literary twist on the house as a symbol of the human psyche, convoluted and absorbing. You can wander through its corridors for hours, but be careful. These three books show that the further you go into a house that has a mind of its own, the harder it gets to find your way out.
BLOCK: Laura Miller is a book critic at Salon.com and the author of "The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia." The books she picked are "Rebecca" by Daphne du Maurier, "The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson, and "The House of Leaves" by Mark Danielewski.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.