Author : Shirley Jackson
Published By : Penguin Classics
Year Published : 1959
Genre / Tags : Mystery, Light Horror, Gothic, Classics
Mood : Atmospheric, spooky, sinister.
Formats : Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook
# of Pages : 208 pages
First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, the lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.
This is going to be a complicated review.
I didn’t like this book. Not in the traditional way that one likes books. I sat down. Read it. Finished it quite fast actually, and left to go write a Goodreads review that was a 2/5 stating that I enjoyed the beginning and very end but didn’t like the characters.
I didn’t care for where certain plot lines went, was dissatisfied with the house- more on that silly-sounding bit later- and just felt like the concept is so ingenious but everyone who has borrowed it has managed to expand all aspects to greater heights. The movies (even that schlocky 90s one) and tv show come to mind.
Fast-forward 8 months in time.
This book has stayed with me like no other. As if it’s crept its way into my heart, unbidden, in a way that books I actually like haven’t managed to do.
Every so often I’ll be watching a movie or tv show that is horror-themed or gothic-themed and think “Oh, that part reminds me of The Haunting of Hill House.” Or I’ll randomly hear or read something and think “I remember a line like that in The Haunting Of Hill House.” Or I’ll not sleep properly and my brain will ask “Hey, remember when that thing happened in The Haunting Of Hill House?”
I have a wait list with various ebooks on it from Overdrive, waiting to eventually get checked out. My eyes keep flitting to a pending book also by this author called “We Have Always Lived In The Castle.” I’m very much looking forward to reading it- whether I like it or not. It’s like my brain says “I don’t like that.” But my heart says ” Shirley Jackson is our kindred spirit, Kitty.” Or maybe it’s the other way around.
Here is the main gist of the story.
The main character, Eleanor, has led a largely empty life and is suddenly free yet frightfully aimless. To my understanding the author suffered from agoraphobia around the time of writing of this book. I definitely sense some of that here, as I’ve also struggled with the same. Eleanor’s journey is this book comes of as someone who is finally trying to overcome a long period of isolation, but without guidance. She ends up moving to Hill House, a mysterious estate that may or may not be haunted. The story has daytime parts where she gets to know some new companions and wander around the grounds freely. Then we get to night time parts where a bunch of creepy events begin to unfurl.
By 2019 standards, nothing very scary happens but there are some scenes that stuck with me. And some scenes that are no doubt valuable as an influence on slowly creeping horror properties like The Turn Of The Key by Ruth Ware.
I adore the idea of having a day and night sequence in horror/mystery and I’d probably instant-TBR any book that has that.
I didn’t particularly like any of the characters that Eleanor meets. There is one that shows up toward the end who goes out of her way to be annoying and break up moments that could have been full of tension.
Also, the conversations between the characters were constantly a source of puzzlement. Did people in the 50s really talk so differently from people in the 70s-90s? I have never had such problems with books from those decades. And honestly, I have been fine with some books from the late 1800s or early 1900s.
I had no issues with the way characters communicated in Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, for example, which is from the 1930s. Not sure if my issues with the dialogue are a product of a poetic writing style or that I’m just out of my depth in understanding what anyone is trying to say due to a generational gap.
So, about the house. I adore Manderley from Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. It’s described as having a beating heart, being full of secrets, and just beautiful and creepy in general. Hill House is structurally similar. I love how Hill House and its grounds looks on all the adaptations I’ve seen.
I could read about its mysteries and eccentricities all day. But there is a strange vagueness to the house in this narrative. A short book this may be, but there were so many of those little aforementioned conversations between characters, enough to be irritating. I was constantly wondering what’s going on with the house. Are there secret passages? Is there more depth to what really happened to people who lived here prior? Can we just explore it more please? Etc.
Such details just seemed insufficient and the adaptations have creatively expanded on the lore in such a sprawling and impressive way. For example, Netflix’s The Haunting Of Hill House is one of my favorite shows, ever. I’m a total fangirl for it.
Also of note is that some Penguin editions of this book contain an extensive introduction by a writer who delves into the themes of the book. There are spoilers in this intro, but I found it well worth reading AFTER finishing the book. A lot of enlightening tidbits helped me to better appreciate things I’d missed or didn’t interpret appropriately. This should have been an afterward instead of an introduction though.
In closing, some time has caused me to look much more favorably upon this novel and be more focused on its place in influencing some of my favorite works ever. The ending is beyond bleak but beautifully written, haunting, and effectively open to interpretation. However, it is also of a grim and hopeless nature that could be triggering for people who struggle in ways similar to the way Eleanor struggles though, so be forewarned.
Overall Rating – 8.5/10 (Subject to change.)
Why You Might Like It – An influential classic that helped paved the way for quietly creepy, and atmospheric gothic horror. I truly enjoyed the beginning and ending. A pretty quick read. Many bright ideas and the whole distinct day and night sequences are just a perfect horror concept that I’ll always be on the look out for.
Why You Might Not Like It / Critiques – I didn’t enjoy the side characters or their dialogue. The book’s shortness made the development of some of its cleverest concepts quite vague, though perhaps purposefully so.The Haunting of Hill House (Penguin Classics) (Amazon Link)
Have you read this book or are interested in reading it? Are you familiar with other Hill House adaptations or are a fan of any similar books with haunted houses? Please feel free to share your thoughts, I read and appreciate all your comments and likes.