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.
The Haunting of Hill House gave me a lot of conflicting emotions. The concept and aesthetics of the book is everything I love. Misfit strangers thrown together in a house that’s supposedly haunted and that’s described as “vile”. However, I did struggle to get through a fair portion of it because it I just found parts at the beginning so unfortunately boring and slow. Shirley Jackson’s construction of the more horror-ish scenes were perfect and during those parts I couldn’t stop reading. It was just the “filler” scenes that I didn’t really care for.
I did spend a lot of time thinking how bizarre all the characters were. Their interactions with each other were all so odd. They were all in their early 30s (minus the Doctor) and they acted like children. The flip side though is the ambiguity of whether or not it was the house that caused that strangeness or whether that’s just how they were written. This is the first Shirley Jackson book I’ve read so I don’t know if that’s just how she writes her characters? Eleanor and Theodora are the only characters who are really fleshed out although even then there’s parts of their backstories that aren’t really explored, like Theodora’s supposed psychic abilities. Luke and Dr. Montague are just kind of there and that’s it. If Dr. Montague wasn’t the one conducting the experiment the story could have existed without both of them. Hill House as a setting felt incredibly alive. It’s hard trying to describe the house, but the best thing I can think of is “unbalanced”.
The strangeness of the characters brings me to my favourite part of this book which was Eleanor’s descent into madness. You can slowly see her unravelling from the moment she arrived at the house (maybe even since she received Dr. Montague’s letter). It’s pretty unsettling to be in her head at times. I found myself relating to her a lot because of things she’d been through. I really loved Theodora too even though I’m guessing a lot of people would have found her eccentricity annoying. As a side note I just want to point out that I got serious queer vibes from Theodora and so many scenes between her and Eleanor led me to believe that Eleanor had a crush on her.
I know ambiguity isn’t something a lot of people enjoy, but I love it and it’s definitely what kept me reading this book. You’re left questioning everything and for me that’s a sign of a great horror because what’s scarier than the unknown? There is SO much I want to say about the ending but can’t get into because spoilers but it was honestly terrifying.
This book is definitely more of a psychological horror than a “jump scare” horror. I think I had expectations in my head about what to expect and that’s why I struggled at times. I kept waiting to be scared and it didn’t happen. It’s definitely more of an atmospheric experience than a “scary” one.
If you want an unsettling, slow burn horror read that’s definitely going to stick with you I really recommend this! However, if you prefer your horror with more action you might want to skip this. I’m definitely interested in picking up more of Shirley Jackson’s work especially We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I can’t really compare the book to the Netflix adaptation because I’ve only seen 5 episodes, but I do suggest you read the book first. It is totally fine not to because the series is quiet different with the way its interpreted the story, but there are subtle references to the book that I really think will heighten the experience if you pick them up.
Even though I didn’t have a consistently good reading experience with this book the longer I think about it the more I appreciate it and I can definitely understand why this is considered THE haunted house story.
Have you read The Haunting of Hill House or is it on your TBR?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!
I hope you’re all having a fantastic day.