The Haunting of Hill House
Author: Shirley Jackson
Length: 6 hours
Narrator: David Warner
Publisher: Phoenix Books, Inc.
Original Publication Date: 1959
Genre(s): Gothic, Horror, Classics
“Some houses are born bad.”
For over 20 years, Hill House has been uninhabited—by humans, that is. The house is widely known as being uninviting, and Dr. Montague, being the scholar that he is, is determined to find evidence of a haunting. Along with Luke, the future heir of Hill House, Dr. Montague invites two women to stay in the house and observe any paranormal occurrences: Theodora, a beautiful, lighthearted woman, and Eleanor, a lonesome, particularly fragile woman. Together, the four of them brave a week inside the terrifying Hill House, but what they don’t know is that one of them is never going to leave…
I am slowly but surely becoming obsessed with Shirley Jackson. After devouring We Have Always Lived in the Castle, I knew my next move would be consuming the more popular The Haunting of Hill House, which spawned a loose adaptation on Netflix that I’ve been dying to watch. Though I didn’t love Hill House as much as We Have Always Lived in the Castle, I did thoroughly enjoy it and find myself falling more in love with the author. Also, spooky vibes are kind of my thing all autumn long.
The Haunting of Hill House is broken into 8 parts and is told in third-person POV, mostly following Eleanor through her experience at Hill House. We get to hear Eleanor’s thoughts more than anyone else, and for that, I am grateful. Immediately I fell in love with Eleanor’s character. I could relate to her right away, and found her fascinating:
“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. Without ever wanting to become reserved and shy, she had spent so long alone, with no one to love, that it was difficult for her to talk, even casually, to another person without self-consciousness and an awkward inability to find words.”
If you know me, you know I love character studies. Though a paranormal horror story, the book is just as much about the transformation we see in Eleanor. As I read further and further, Eleanor’s character started to shift, and kept changing until I actually started to dislike her. But the amazing part is that the change in Eleanor is so subtle that I didn’t really recognize it was happening until close to the end. Jackson is a phenomenal writer. Everything from her horror to her humor is subtle. Brilliant.
And speaking of her humor, Shirley Jackson is hilarious. Both in Hill House and Castle, I found myself laughing and admiring the snark and sarcasm in Jackson’s words, especially in her dialogue between characters. I love subtle, smart humor, and her novels are full of it. I also admire how Jackson personified the house, making the house seem like a character in and of itself, without it seeming campy or cringe-y. The mood was just right.
Even when nothing interesting was happening (which makes up about the first half of the novel), the story never became boring, and always succeeded in maintaining a spooky mood. Though it’s been clear, crisp days here in Ohio, the novel’s mood made me feel like I was sitting in a quiet, dim room, the day outside chilly, gray, and rainy. So even when things are totally normal, I still felt chilled, and that’s what makes this such a captivating horror novel.
The Haunting of Hill House is the perfect scary story that truly acts as a base for all haunted house stories that followed, and even appears to have created the premise for literally every single ghost hunter TV show/movie to date. Shirley Jackson is becoming one of my favorite writers, and for good reason. If you’re in the mood for a chilling spook this October (or any October to come, really), you should absolutely check out this horror classic.
–“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.”