Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House

Shirley Jackson

Rating: 4 out of 5.

published: 16th October 1959
spoilers? no, or, I tried my best


Four seekers have arrived at the rambling old pile known as Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of psychic phenomena; Theodora, his lovely and lighthearted assistant; Luke, the adventurous future inheritor of the estate; and Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman with a dark past. As they begin to cope with chilling, even horrifying occurrences beyond their control or understanding, they cannot possibly know what lies ahead. For Hill House is gathering its powers – and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

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.

I started reading The Haunting of Hill House, perhaps unsurprisingly, because I saw (and loved) the TV show. Now, I’m not a big fan of horror or paranormal – I am easily scared (and when I say “easily”, I really do mean easily) – so I didn’t expect to like the show at all, let alone as much as I did. So, then I decided to read the book.

First things first: the book is almost a completely different story from the TV show. The Crains do not feature (in apart from the original owner and builder of Hill House being Hugh Crain, but this is in the 1800s or something). It is instead a story primarily told from the point of view of Eleanor Vance, who is invited up to Hill House by a Dr. Montague, to assist in his investigation of psychic phenomena. Along with Eleanor, Dr. Montague engages the help of Theodora, and Luke Sanderson, the heir to the house.

But while it’s a whole different story, there is still so much you can pick out that reminds you of the TV show. Like how Steve Crain is like a mix of Dr. Montague and the narrator (Shirley Jackson). Or the turns of phrase that get repeated (Journeys end in lovers meeting.) And Theodora and Luke and Eleanor are all but the same characters. It all added to my enjoyment of the book (and TV show) because I could see where the inspiration had come from in the source material.

One thing the book did amazingly was the slow build-up of fear. It’s not obvious at first. It’s mostly a kind of eerie sense you get, but then I finished the last 50 or so pages late at night, and you can just feel the house getting to Eleanor as you read further on. She doesn’t notice it in the narrative, really, but as the reader you can tell it’s there, and it was genuinely creepy. (Joke’s on me for thinking this book didn’t scare me all that much, I guess.

And the end… Even if you know vaguely what the end entails? You’re not ready for it.

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