Book Review: “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson

This review contains spoilers

Having binged and LOVED the Netflix adaptation of this novel, I was sold on reading this from the moment I passed by its display in the store. However, from reading the blurb on the back cover, I could immediately tell how different it was going to be from the Netflix show.

For starters, the Crain family is only mentioned in the book as opposed to the Crain family being central to the show. Instead of five siblings like the show, Eleanor, Luke, and Theodora are not related by any means and are already adults at the start of the novel.

In the novel, they’re invited to Hill House by Dr. Montague, who rented Hill House for three months in hopes of studying its paranormal beings. In third-person limited, we follow Eleanor more closely than the other characters (in a way, like in the show).

At this point already, you must be wondering, “So, did you like the book better than the show??”

The answer, my friends, is complicated.

PLOT

When I picked up this book, I expected it to send chills down my spine and give me visuals of the hauntings experienced in the house, much like the show did. Upon finishing, I’ve come to the realization that it’s not so much about the hauntings, the scare factor, or other.

In a sense, I’d classify this novel more as a psychological thriller than a horror. Hill House, while it does have a few hauntings, has an ability to lure its tenants into madness, which is terrifying. For me, I didn’t even realize what was happening until Eleanor’s nightmares and subconscious thoughts were surfacing.

Once it occurred to me what the house was doing to the characters and the truth behind its “hauntings”, I was floored. Without detailing most of the hauntings, we’re left to determine our interpretations for ourselves. All the while, we’re seeing Eleanor’s decent into madness and her attachment to Hill House because of her past.

Hill House is not a place where you’ll experience ghost sightings and overly horrific occurrences. But what is horrific is that Hill House is like a stomach, swallowing you whole, analyzing your fears, and spitting out twisted reasonings for wanting to stay.

Pacing

This is where it starts to fall apart for me. We really didn’t have any traces of “hauntings” until 150 pages into the book.

This made much of the first half somewhat boring for me, but the rest of the book moves fairly quick.

Characters

From the very first pages, it’s obvious that this novel is very character-driven. Despite it being mainly about Eleanor’s experience with Hill House, we’re able to catch a glimpse of each character’s personalities.

Eleanor stuck out to me like a sore thumb for most of the novel. It’s mentioned that she’s 32-years-old, but most of her dialogue and actions made me peg her as fourteen instead. One several accounts, she and Theodora act like children, and not in a good way.

Her backstory lends to some explanation as to why she acts this way, such as never really having her own life and never exploring adulthood. But I expected more from the character and was often disappointed (and annoyed) by most of her appearances.

However, I LOVED the character of Mrs. Montague. Jackson’s execution of her had me cackling for the last quarter of the book, from her strong personality to her quirky dialogue. A few noteworthy phrases include: “John, you astound me. Is it your belief that I do not know whether it is dark outside at night? The car has lights, John.” and “I am astonished, John, that you put me in a room not properly aired; if there is to be any communication with those beyond, the air circulation, at least, ought to be adequate.”

Prose

Ms. Jackson’s descriptions and prose are, by far, the gem of this entire novel. She captures the setting and image of Hill House incredibly well, bringing us into the world she’s crafted.

She brought the character’s to life, no matter how annoying or flamboyant they were.

Very well done.

Overall, I give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Overall, the book was well done. I would recommend reading it, as long as you’re prepared for the true nature of this book (not exactly a horror).

Here’s the full synopsis:

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.

Book Stats:

  1. Genre: Paranormal/Psychological Thriller

  2. Plot: Hauntings in Hill House

  3. POV: Third-person limited

  4. Cliffhanger: Sort-of?

  5. Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Have you read (or watched) the Haunting of Hill house? let me know in the comments below! 🙂

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