Author: Shirley Jackson
Publication date: First published in 1959
Paperback: 246 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, his 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.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Bought
Why did I read this book: Thea dared me to read this for Halloween Week and since I wanted to read something truly terrifying, I said yes.
There are two things that TERRIFY me: ghost stories and haunted houses. The Haunting of Hill House combines both in a story of psychological Horror. That is to say: this book is like my kryptonite and I have been sleeping with the lights on ever since I finished it.
First published in 1959, The Haunting of Hill House is considered one of the best Horror stories ever and I can see why: I found myself loving it completely. This is a brilliant book.
Dr. Montague is an investigator of supernatural events who puts together a group of people to spend a few months at the infamous Hill House. He has chosen those he invited very carefully, based on previously experienced paranormal activity, hoping that will mean that those people would be more attuned to the paranormal. In the end though only two people show up, two young women named Theodora and Eleanor. Theo is a bohemian artist who just had a fight with her flat mate (possibly a lover?) and needs to clear her head; Eleanor is a reclusive, shy woman who spent most her adult life nursing her recently deceased mother. The group is joined by Luke, the young heir to Hill House.
The story is narrated from Eleanor’s point of view and it’s through her eyes that we experience everything that the group does. The story starts really slowly and for the first 100 or so pages nothing significant happens in terms of paranormal activity. Until it does: and it is terrifying.
The thing is, those first pages are essential to this storytelling and to understanding the presumed supernatural elements. In those first few pages we get acquainted with our narrator and see her frame of mind at the starting point. We follow her as she experiences the freedom of making her own choices, as she drives through empty roads and small towns, hopeful she is driving toward new things (perhaps it will end in a love story?). As get to Hill House it is her description of its darkness and strangeness and her description of its creepy caretakers with their message of DOOM (who oddly, work really well as comic relief) that colour our own view of the house and its inhabitants. And of course, there is also her depiction of the rest of the group and how she perceives them to be, how she sees her place in the dynamics of the group and how the relationships develop between them.
In Eleanor’s narrative lies the brilliance of this novel. It is as engaging as it is unnerving – all the more so because it is possible to see the little, subtle lies she tells the group about herself. Then, little by little, things start to change as the group experience the events. Is the House really Evil and haunted? Is it affecting the dynamics of the group and changing their personalities? Or is the house (or perhaps the idea of the house) affecting only Eleanor and as such Eleanor’s views of them that are being altered? There is a lot that could be said for both explanations of the events that take place in the book.
More than that though, there is a lot of subtext when it comes to the characters that is open for interpretation: is Theodora lesbian? Is Eleanor and Theodora’s relationship romantic in nature? What about Luke? Does he have feelings for either woman or none of them? How to interpret those will depend on what each reader brings into the reading of the book.
But even if the supernatural elements never really happened (or have they), I will still sleep with the lights on for the time being, thank you very much. Another thing I will do is to buy the author’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle which, I hear, is also fabulous.
Notable Quotes/ Parts:
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
Reading Next: Dragon’s Bait by Vivian Vande Velde
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