Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Technically, this is a novella, not a novel, coming in at just under two hundred pages (four hundred on Ebook). This classic horror is probably most famous for its 1963 movie remake called The Haunting. I watched the movie years ago, back when I was obsessed with TCM, and my memory is a little fuzzy so I will not be analyzing the differences/similarities. There is also a Netflix show of the same name coming out this October, though I know little about that as well.

Anyway, this book has been on my TBR for years, since I saw the original movie, but, like most books on my TBR, I’m only getting around to reading it now.

Release Date: 1959.

Synopsis: This book follows four individuals, led by Dr. Montague, as they come to stay at Hill House to test for the existence of ghosts. Theodora and Eleanor are both young women with disturbing, supernatural pasts, while Luke is the future heir of Hill House itself. But the longer they stay, the more haunting their experiences become.

Non-Spoiler Review

The first thing I disliked about the book is its incredibly long introduction. It takes a quarter of the book before we even reach Hill House, taking the time to introduce the characters and then fixate on Eleanor (who in my opinion is the protagonist) as she journeys from her troubled home to Hill House. I remember trying to read The Shining a few months ago and giving up a hundred pages in because it was so boring in the beginning. This similarly felt as if it took too much time to get to the actual house and aptly named haunting.

Eleanor is one of the most irrational characters I have ever read about, and it gets worse as the story continues. When she sees a child throwing a tantrum for not getting her way, she supports the child. And when Dudley, the caretaker, asks her if she know what’s happening in Hill House, she yells as him to let her in without even questioning the danger. Admittedly, he is a bit rude, but she acts as though she is twelve years old in response. And this is all in the first fifty pages. What I’m saying is she’s such a timid, defensive person that she amps up every situation in her head, almost turning her into an unreliable narrator. I was always questioning whether a situation was scary or if she just reacted to non-scary situations in fear. I’ll talk more about this point in my spoiler section.

Theodora, on the other hand, is hilarious. She is flamboyant, opinionated, and probably the most mentally sound of all four main characters. She shows an adventurous, brave side which almost seems like a foil to Eleanor’s timid one. She also brings out the best in Eleanor, being someone Eleanor can turn to when she’s uncomfortable or afraid.
Luke and Dr. Montague didn’t stand out too much to me as well-developed characters. Luke is lighthearted and mischievous, and Dr. Montague is obsessed with science and the supernatural. There is little else interesting about their characters.

Once the group gets together, I began enjoying the book a lot more. It’s got a very stylized type of writing, similar to most books written in the 50s. This means pages are filled with pointless dialogue and endless description. The plot itself was interesting and felt like the clique of “people arrive at a haunted house together” that you see in cinema and books a lot. I’m not sure if this was the first book to employ this plot, but it certainly was one of the first. Because of this, to me it felt cliqued but at the time it would have been considered innovative and different.

Finally, the ending…gracious me, the ending!

Spoiler Alert!

For the record, I saw the ending coming a mile away. I see the book as less of a haunting and more about Eleanor’s descent into madness. She clearly was unhinged even before she arrived at the house. In her head, she would randomly feel extreme emotions of hatred towards people who had shown nothing but kindness to her.

Concerning the haunting, at first I was certain everything was in Eleanor’s head. However, after Theo, Luke, and the doctor heard and witnessed things, I began to accept that Eleanor’s problems were simply made worse by whatever was haunting the house. What it was was never explained, though perhaps it was the original owner who built the house haunting it.

As for the ending, massive spoiler alert, Eleanor nearly kills herself by climbing up to the roof and when she’s brought down everyone tells her to leave…by herself…in a car…when she’s not thinking straight. And what happens but she crashed into a tree while heading away from the house and dies. Let me just say that this could have easily been prevented by the people in the house NOT LETTING HER DRIVE!

Okay…I’m calm.

But seriously. I was taught never to let someone drive drunk, and so not letting someone drive who is clearly mentally disturbed seems like a given. Clearly not to these people! It makes me wonder that, although we never see into anyone else’s head but Eleanor’s, that perhaps they were affected by the house. Perhaps even manipulated to believe that they must send Eleanor away. I’m not sure, but it doesn’t make any sense that otherwise rational individuals would allow her to drive.

Besides that, the story just…ended. We never learned what was haunting the house. There’s a lot of hints throughout the book of what it might be. The companion who inherited the house hanged herself and could have wanted revenge. The original owner may have been involved in the occult, perhaps even summoning demons, but we never learn anything for certain. This made me feel by the end that this book actually had little to do with the haunting, and more simply to do with one woman’s descent into madness.

All in all, it was a decent book. The characters were interesting, the premise was cool, and the conflict rose well. But it was also the type of book I left with knowing no more than I did going in. I like books that make me think and help me to learn something. This book did not. That is why my final thoughts are that this book is okay, but not great.

Have you read this book or seen any of the movies? Would you be interested to read a story like this? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more madness, and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

  1. That Eleanor character sounds very annoying! However, I liked The Lottery and I’ll give this book a chance for I think the author writes well.

    Liked by 1 person

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