Dr. Montague rents out the purportedly haunted Hill House, in hopes of finding concrete evidence of a haunting. He is joined at Hill House by three others– Eleanor, a woman with no place in the world, Theodora, a funny yet spiteful psychic, and Luke, the future heir to the house. From the beginning, something is off with the house. It is ugly and disturbing. None of the doors will remain open on their own. The house is a maze with rooms connected to other rooms without the benefit of hallways. The original owner of the house had it built with all the corners just slightly more or less than 90 degrees, so it is also disorienting to navigate the house.
Strange, unexplained things begin to happen. There is a cold spot when you enter the nursery. Writing appears on the wall, first in chalk and later in blood. Mysterious knocking happens at night. Eleanor, in particular, is singled out by the house which calls for her to come home. Slowly, Eleanor falls under the house’s spell, driving her insane.
It has been at least ten years since I last read this book and I am not sure I like it quite as much as I like We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but Shirley Jackson is still a master at making the ordinary terrifying and at creating characters who appear ordinary, but who are quite off-kilter. I think what makes it worse, is that the book is particularly disorienting (just like the house!) and you never quite know what is real, what is Eleanor’s imagination, or what is really happening. And Jackson makes it clear that explaining the haunting isn’t going to happen when she introduces Mrs. Montague and her driver, Arthur. The two try to explain the haunting by using a device similar to a Ouija board and by offering love to the spirits haunting the house. In turn, they never experience any of the strange phenomena of the house because they are clearly hacks.
I will always recommend Shirley Jackson because I enjoy her writing and I admire her ability to create characters who look normal until you shine a bright light on them. I also recommend this as a Halloween read to those looking for something a little spooky, especially those who aren’t into the super-scary. It’s pretty tame in comparison to a lot of thrillers/horror stories, but if you are anything like me, it will still creep you out. Finally, this makes for a pretty good readathon book, as it is fairly short, spooky, and weird.
4 thoughts on “The Haunting of Hill House- Shirley Jackson”
Thanks for this review! I am currently reading ‘Salem’s Lot, and THOHH is referenced a bit. I’m tempted to read it soon.
It’s fairly short and it’s pretty iconic in the genre, so it’s probably worth reading. But don’t expect Stephen King level scary or suspense… it’s a lot tamer. I still feel a little unsettled by it, though, as there is pretty much no explanation of anything and reading it all in one sitting, I had a hard time wrapping my head around what actually might be happening– with the characters or with the house. I think that was the point– that your imagination plays a role in deciding what’s going on, but it has left me puzzled about my opinion of the book!
This is a good read, especially this time of year. I read the book after seeing the movie (which was sort of bad) and it was so much better. It’s so creepy and not being able to trust any of the characters makes it so much better because you don’t know what’s going to happen.
I’ll admit I watched the movie when it came out in the 90s and liked it (we’ll chalk it up to youthful indiscretion) so I read the book. I have heard that the 60s version of the movie is actually scary, but I haven’t had a chance to track it down. Maybe I should before Halloween!
And you’re right, there is something very disturbing about the unreliable characters. There are times I wonder how much of it was all in Eleanor’s head as she certainly had a overactive imagination.