book review

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Haunting of Hill House follows the story of four people who travel to Hill House to investigate the unexplained ghostly phenomena that has been observed there over the years. Told through third-person narration, but mostly from the point of view of Eleanor (Nell), we witness the strange events in the house and how it sinks its claws into one of the guests.

This novel relies on terror rather than the horror – it’s the idea that something bad might happen, and wondering what that bad thing will be, and working yourself up, that really causes fear in the reader. It’s not that bad things don’t happen, it’s just that the anticipation of the bad thing is perhaps just as (if not more) terrifying. I thought this was something that this novel did exceptionally well, and it does that through Jackson’s phenomenal descriptions of the house.

No human eye can isolate the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house, and yet somehow a maniac juxtaposition, a badly turned angle, some chance meeting of roof and sky, turned Hill House into a place of despair, more frightening because the face of Hill House seemed awake, with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice.

The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson

Hill House is basically a character of its own in the novel – it looms over all of the characters, inciting disgust and repulsion, and creeping into their subconscious. Jackson’s prose is intelligent and distinctive, and I think it’s very clever how she builds up the wrongness of the house through little things like it being built at slightly wrong angles, with rooms and towers not quite being where you think they should be logically. It’s a great way to isolate, untether and confuse both the characters and the readers.

As well as the darkness and the creepiness, the author instils a great sense of humour into the novel, and an immediate kinship and closeness within the characters (that does get twisted as the story progresses). It was a joy to read both during the creepy moments and the moments when they’re sitting around and having a chat.

Jackson leaves a lot up to the reader’s interpretation, leaving you wondering about whether the goings on were supernatural, caused by humans, or manifestations of mental illness (or a combination of these things). It’s the perfect way to end the novel, as it means you get something out of no matter what you believe.

This is an engaging, well-written gothic novel that I would heartily recommend this scary season (or any other time of the year, for that matter!). Having already read another of Shirley Jackson’s novels (We Have Always Lived in the Castle), I am now intent on reading more!

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