Review of The Haunting of Hill House

Originally published in June 2004, in 2 parts
Book 21 in my first 52 books challenge.

Author: Shirley Jackson
Year published: 1959
Where got: Public library
Genre: Horror
Sub-genre: Haunted house tale

I started reading this book a couple of days ago and have finished the first two chapters. Although nothing supernatural has happened yet, a subtle sense of suspense and creepiness has started to build. So far, I’m reminded of the beginning of both the TV series Rose Red and the movie The Legend of Hell House, but I guess there are limited ways in which you can start a haunted house tale.

Finished it this afternoon. This is a book that is best read in broad daylight – not that it kept me awake or gave me nightmares, but it took me quite a bit longer than usual to fall asleep after reading the first two chapters at bedtime.

The Story:
Two young women, Eleanor and Theodora arrive at Hill House, a fancy country mansion, to meet Dr. Montague, a researcher of psychic phenomena who has asked them to help him investigate the apparently haunted house. The fourth member of the team is Luke, the rakish future heir to the house. Right from the day of arrival, it is apparent that this is a strange and unusual place, and as the days pass on, we get to know some of the apparent reasons for the strangeness of the house described by Dr. Montague as “…disturbed…. Leprous. Sick. Any of the popular euphemisms for insanity…”
Strange things happen and hauntings occur, and the characters are affected in different ways as the house tries to scare and even possess them. Things come to a head when Mrs. Montague, the Doctor’s wife, arrives with an odious companion and tries to contact the spirits she believes are trapped in the house.

Technique and plot:
This is a marvellously spooky story, and Jackson has managed quite well to build up suspense and a sense of creepiness right from chapter one. The suspense and horror are largely psychological, and it helps that we get to follow one character’s internal thoughts and feelings and her… I don’t know if I should call it descent into madness or opening up to possession by evil, but you see her get more and more disturbed – by turns elated or upset - as the narrative moves closer to the climax.

A comic interlude lightens the atmosphere just before the climax, making the climax and denouement all the more effective. The ending is both completely predictable and a total surprise, which is no small feat for any author.

A well crafted, suspenseful and spooky haunted house tale. 4 stars.

Information about Shirley Jackson, including a link to her brilliant short story, “The Lottery”:
Shirley Jackson

A possible inspiration for The Haunting of Hill House:
The Haunting of Borley Rectory


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