Initial Thoughts: For the longest time, Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery,” along with her novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle, has been on my to-read list for years. I ended up reading one of her lesser-known novels The Haunting of Hill House first. I have yet to read Jackson’s other works, but after reading The Haunting of Hill House, I can’t wait to tackle her other novels.
The classic supernatural thriller by an author who helped define the genre. 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, his 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
When I first began reading Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, I expected it to be something along the lines of a ghost story. I sort of imagined Disney’s The Haunted Mansion, but much darker, like the horror movies I am too chicken to watch. Instead, as I began reading, I ended up having altogether a completely different impression.
The story begins with Dr. John Montague sending out invitations to people who have had psychic or unexplainable experiences in the past, to participate in an experiment at Hill House. Dr. Montague’s goal is to find out whether or not Hill House is truly haunted. It is unclear if Hill House is actually haunted, but everyone in the town agrees that the house is to be avoided at all costs. Out of all the invitations that were sent out, only two women agree to take part in the experiment: Eleanor Vance, a sheltered young woman who has never known freedom, and Theodora, a bohemian artist. The heir to Hill House, Luke Sanderson, agrees to take part in the experiment as well.
At first, there is nothing horrific that occurs at Hill House. Dr. Montague and his three participants become quite comfortable at Hill House. Then, gradually, the participants begin to hear strange noises and doors start closing on their own.
Once I was half way into the novel, I began to think “this really isn’t as scary as I thought.” I enjoyed getting to know each of the characters, and I really connected with the shy and unworldly Eleanor. As I kept reading, I began to find the novel to be very humorous and mocking of studying the occult with the introduction of Mrs. Montague (Dr. Montague’s wife), and her companion Arthur. I thought, maybe this isn’t a horror story at all?
Then, as soon as you let your guard down, the novel takes a dark turn.
The Haunting of Hill House is a strange blend of foreboding and dark humour. The creepiest part of the story is more about what you expect to happen rather than what does happen, and that is precisely why Jackson is a genius. I had expected ghosts. I had expected horror along the lines of Stephen King. Instead, the book plays with the psyche and expectations of the reader. Ghosts stories and haunted houses is an exhausted genre, but Jackson has managed to create something completely new and very creepy.
About the Book
Title: The Haunting of Hill House Author: Shirley Jackson Year Published: 1959 Pages: 182 Received: Borrowed (Library) Recommended? Yes Genres & Subjects: fiction, horror, gothic, classic, mystery, paranormal
Until Next Time,