Title: The Haunting of Hill House
Author: Shirley Jackson
Genre: Horror, Literary
Date of Publication: 1959
Publisher: Penguin Classics, among others
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. – Goodreads
It’s hard to separate out the four appeal elements for this book, because they’re all so interwoven and dependent on one another. But I’ll try!
Jackson’s style of writing is clearly the primary appeal for this novel. This is a classic for a reason, and there is significant imagery and symbolism in everything that appears on the pages. The novel begins with somewhat of a light tone, talking about the house and the darkness within it, but as the story progresses, this lightness is swallowed by darkness, and the tension rises with every turn of the page. A lot of the horror of this novel is not in what happens, but in how it is written. Jackson has a way of eliciting fear and dread in the reader, just by careful word choice and sentence structure.
Set in an old house that’s so peculiarly built that it rivals the Winchester Mansion in California, the setting is what makes this novel so memorable. The house is described not in just physical terms, but also in the way that it makes people feel. The history of the house and everything else has so much thought and care put into it that it feels more fleshed out than the main characters. And that’s because it is its own character.
This novel has a slow pace, particularly at the beginning, but the language is so beautiful and engaging that I didn’t even notice. That isn’t to say that nothing happens, but it happens at its own pace, and the plot isn’t at all rushed. We don’t get one of those books where so much happens at the beginning that it lags in the middle. The Haunting of Hill House has the opposite effect, where it begins slowly, taking its time to get where it wants to go, but the plot unravels quicker and quicker as the story progresses. I would say that if you have a hard time getting into the story, you should give it another shot, because the book just keeps getting better and better.
I was surprised by how funny this book was. The characters are witty, and some of the things they say serve to transform them into three-dimensional, relatable characters that could exist today, not only sixty years ago. Some of the imagery made me laugh out loud, particularly in the beginning of the book when Eleanor leaves to find Hill House, and she steals her sister’s car. While this book is quite short, I felt that I really connected with Eleanor, and her character development (at the risk of spoiling anything) is quite fascinating and beautifully facilitated by Jackson’s firm grasp of the written word.
I recommend this book to literally anyone who claims to be a fan of haunted house stories.
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