The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

89717I’m not sure if The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson, is a horror story that has lots of explanations for what happens—or if it’s meant to remain inexplicable. Either way, I found the story utterly gripping. Not only did I want to know what was happening, but I was intrigued by the way the the house comes to malevolent life in this novel and drives at least one of its visitors mad.

The opening paragraph sets a tone of dread and inevitable violence. It’s so forthright that it reads like a warning, one that the protagonists should’ve had before they decided to follow paranormal investigator Dr. Montague’s invitation to stay at Hill House. The good(ish) doctor wants people who’ve had possibly supernatural experiences to stay in the house to see if he can document real paranormal activity. His invitations don’t get many takers, but he does convince two women who already wanted to leave their current homes to try something different. Theodora and Eleanor agree to spend time at the house, along with Montague and Luke, a relative of the current owner.

It’s not long before things go bump in the night, literally. Over the course of the book, details about the house’s and the character’s history. There are tantalizing clues about what might be going on—repeated phrases and events, possible psychological interpretations, etc.—but none of my hypotheses really fit what happens in the few days that Eleanor et al. spent at the house. There are pieces that refused be forced into a complete picture. I’m rather glad that this book is a book club pick because it means I can hash out some of my ideas with fellow readers.

In spite of all the psychological terror, I found The Haunting of Hill House to be unexpectedly funny. The characters banter during the day, partly to cope with what happens at night, but also because these four weirdos click and enjoy riffing on each other’s statements. Without these moments of levity, I think I might have found this novel unbearable dreadful, in the full sense of inducing dread. Dr. Montague’s methodically nutty wife even had me laughing out loud.

The Haunting of Hill House is a strange, disturbing tale. Because the perspective moves in and out of Eleanor’s head, it’s hard to keep track of what might be real and what isn’t. It’s genius in the way it keeps readers off-balance for its full length; it kept me constantly guessing and reassessing what I thought I knew. Even if there isn’t an explanation for what happened to Eleanor and the gang at Hill House, I’m not disappointed in this book. Solutions aren’t everything. The reading experience is and I had a great time reading The Haunting of Hill House.


  1. Have you read Jackson’s “We Have Always Lived in the Castle”? It is creepy in an “I think there might be something seriously psychologically wrong with these people…” kind of way rather than the more supernatural vibe of “Hill House.”


    1. I haven’t, but I think I’d like it considering how much I liked Hill House. I prefer psychological terror to what most people think of as horror, but that might be because unreliable narrators are among my favorite things in fiction.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This has been on my to-read list forever — sounds like a great read for Halloween-time. I love Shirley Jackson, but it’s good to know that you enjoyed this one! Great review!


    1. This was mostly a hit at book club last night. One reader didn’t like it because she was expecting something scarier. If you expect more psychological frighteners rather than “scare the pants off you scary,” you should be fine.

      As a group, we wondered if this book might have been scarier if we all hadn’t grown up with Stephen King raising the stakes.


  3. I loved the caretaker woman who keeps warning them that nobody will come… in the dark… in the night… she made me laugh so much. It’s beautifully ambiguous, though, isn’t it?


  4. Nice review. Just finished “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” and found it fascinating. My “to read” list is getting long – but I’ll add The Haunting of Hill House.”

    Thanks for sharing.


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