Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Book: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Published: 1959, Penguin
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 246
Where I got it: the library
Buy It: Amazon

Summary (from Amazon): Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House has unnerved readers since its original publication in 1959. A tale of subtle, psychological terror, it has earned its place as one of the significant haunted house stories of the ages.
Eleanor Vance has always been a loner--shy, vulnerable, and bitterly resentful of the 11 years she lost while nursing her dying mother. "She had spent so long alone, with no one to love, that it was difficult for her to talk, even casually, to another person without self-consciousness and an awkward inability to find words." Eleanor has always sensed that one day something big would happen, and one day it does. She receives an unusual invitation from Dr. John Montague, a man fascinated by "supernatural manifestations." He organizes a ghost watch, inviting people who have been touched by otherworldly events. A paranormal incident from Eleanor's childhood qualifies her to be a part of Montague's bizarre study--along with headstrong Theodora, his assistant, and Luke, a well-to-do aristocrat. They meet at Hill House--a notorious estate in New England.
Hill House is a foreboding structure of towers, buttresses, Gothic spires, gargoyles, strange angles, and rooms within rooms--a place "without kindness, never meant to be lived in...."
Although Eleanor's initial reaction is to flee, the house has a mesmerizing effect, and she begins to feel a strange kind of bliss that entices her to stay. Eleanor is a magnet for the supernatural--she hears deathly wails, feels terrible chills, and sees ghostly apparitions. Once again she feels isolated and alone--neither Theo nor Luke attract so much eerie company. But the physical horror of Hill House is always subtle; more disturbing is the emotional torment Eleanor endures. Intense, literary, and harrowing, The Haunting of Hill House belongs in the same dark league as Henry James's classic ghost story, The Turn of the Screw.

My thoughts: 
As far as a haunted house story goes, The Haunting of Hill House is one of the creepiest that I've read. The doors that would always slam shut and the way the house seemed to purposely get each person lost were the little things that made me regret that I was reading my flashlight in my dark bedroom. Some of the other things that added to this book's creep factor were the cold spot in the house and the banging that would happen in the hallways in the middle of the night that only certain people could hear. There was one particular moment of hand holding in the dark that had me shivering with fright. It reminded me of The Shining in many ways. If you're a Stephen King fan or you are into psychological thrillers, I would highly recommend this book.

With that said, I've been having trouble deciding if I actually liked The Haunting of Hill House or not.  The characters all seemed to change personalities from one minute to the next. I felt confused on whether Eleanor and Theodora liked each other. At times it was like they felt as though they were long lost friends and then at other times we would get Eleanor's internal monologue about how much she hated Theodora. I think that Shirley Jackson meant for us to dislike the characters but overall it just made me feel indifferent about the ending. I don't know if it was the house that was making everyone act weird or if everyone was just bipolar. There was so much buildup as the house was biding its time before it claimed one of the visitor's for its own but I wasn't overly shocked, nor did I feel bad for the person it chose. I did enjoy the buildup but I was slightly let down in the end. However, it was refreshing to read a ghost story that's strictly spine tingling instead of full with gore.

The verdict: 3 stars

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