I stumbled upon The Haunting of Hill House while browsing a local book store. It intrigued me immediately, not only by its promising blurb but also the fact that Stephen King apparently called it almost as perfect a haunted house story as can be.
Since I absolutely adored Annihilation, I thought The Haunting of Hill House might make for a great read as well.
Let’s just cut to the chase and say that I was disappointed. Maybe my expectations were too high, maybe I didn’t understand the story well enough but at no point was I so frightened or so scared that I would call The Haunting of Hill House an almost perfect haunted house tale.
I didn’t feel a constant suspense and I wasn’t anxious to learn what was going to happen next to the four explorers. While the themes, motives and turns of the book weren’t dull but rather creatively done, the book just didn’t do it for me.
It is certainly a fine story and character study, but it wasn’t a ghost story that made me frightened – at least for me it wasn’t.
I will rate this book a 7/10. Even though the ghost elements fall a little bit short, The Haunting of Hill House still features an interesting character study and depicts how people act under difficult circumstances.
Shirley Jackson was born in 1916, and is most famous for her ghost stories like The Haunting of Hill House. She wrote a variety of novels, short stories as well as non-fiction titles. She died at
age 48 in 1965.
Date of release: 2009 (Originally, 1959)
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So, let’s start with a brief outline of the story. Hill House was built by Hugh Crain almost 80 years prior to the events described in the book. Previous to his early death, Hugh Crain raised two girls in Hill House, both of whom later fought over who can keep Hill House. Now, Dr. Montague wants to investigate the paranormal and psychic activities surrounding Hill House and has invited several other people to join him. Only two accepted; Theodora and Eleanor. There is also Luke, who will later inherit Hill House and later on Mrs. Montague and Arthur will join the group.
The story mostly follows Eleanor, a shy woman in her thirties, who for the first time feels at home in Hill House.
The book opens up really slow, describing in a painstakingly exact manner, how Dr. Montague chose who to invite and then why Eleanor decided to come to Hill House as well as the way Eleanor drove to Hill House, with all of its boring details.
Personally, I liked the way the book was written, though. To gain insight into Eleanor and her thoughts was quite interesting, although a little confusing at times. I think this in part stems from the rather old-fashioned language, which sometimes made it difficult for me to understand. I also feel like I didn’t get a lot of the metaplot, due to the same reason.
I had to look up certain words I didn’t understand more often than in other books, even though I consider my English to be on a very high level.
However, I found the book to be rather funny and sarcastic. There always was a funny thing someone said or an amusing thought of Eleanor’s. Those little comments were sometimes so out of place, they made me laugh a great bit!
Now, let’s go over to what is essentially supposed to be the main theme in The Haunting of Hill House; the haunting.
And I must say that I am really disappointed in this regard. From the blurb and the high praise, the book received, I was expecting a lot more spooky stuff.
After this little group has been in Hill House for only a day or two, they start to observe some strange occurrences. And this is also where the trouble starts – at least in my opinion.
So, there’s Eleanor’s name written in chalk on a wall and naturally Eleanor gets quite scared and to be honest I also started to feel a little bit scared. Especially when keeping in mind that earlier they heard someone (or something) furiously knocking on all doors on the corridor.
So, there I am, slowly getting the chills and thinking to myself: “Finally, it is now going to get spooky”. And then, Shirley Jackson does something that for me took out all the tension that has been building up. She has Theodora admit that it was her, who wrote the words on the wall. I think this is a horrible decision, because she introduced a new, mundane explanation for what has been happening. One that prior was not on my mind, one that I didn’t even think of.
For me it destroyed so much. And even if Theo only said that to calm down Eleanor, the pure fact that she threw the possibility into the mix is enough for me.
From now on, all the psychic events have a different feel to them. I started to scrutinize everything. And to be honest, the horror didn’t really get that exciting after all.
And then Mrs. Montague enters the frame together with Arthur (a school headmaster, who apparently is interested in psychic phenomena). And let’s be blunt, I could not stand either of them. Both of them seemed so haughty and thought they were better than the rest. I know that this was probably done on purpose but it hindered me from enjoying the book. I got quite infuriated, especially by the behaviour displayed by Mrs. Montague. In turn, I felt much more sympathetic with the original team.
At last, I must talk about the ending, which was very strange. We feel that Eleanor experiences these phenomena much more intensely than the rest. On several occasions, she states that she feels the noises are coming from inside and outside her head. Finally, one fateful night, Eleanor sneaks out of the bedroom and in some kind of frenzy, starts running through Hill House, knocking on doors and shaking on door knobs. Eventually, she climbs up the old tower and Luke has to climb up and get her to come down, since the whole stairway is on the verge of breaking.
All these events are depicted from Eleanor’s point of view. She notices what is happening around her but she doesn’t process the information. An example of this is when she is on top of the stairway and looks down. At first, she sees three people and only on second glance she notices that the figures are Dr. Montague, Luke and Theodora. Her mind seems to be blurred in this kind of rush that she is experiencing. She feels oddly connected to Hill House and Hill House appears to be talking to her.
The next morning, once Eleanor has recovered, Dr. Montague orders her to leave Hill House at once. He did not anticipate such an enormous impact by Hill House and he fears for Eleanor’s health. Eleanor, however, does not want to leave Hill House in the slightest. She feels bonded, finally she feels at home and sees no reason at all to leave Hill House. When the others insist, she gets into her car and starts driving away. Yet, in one final act she accelerates hard and slams her car into a tree.
We don’t know what happened next, but we can be reasonably sure that Eleanor died. But still, the very last paragraph is the very same as was in the beginning. Does this mean that Eleanor's mind or soul got “absorbed” into Hill House and will proceed to haunt Hill House just like other people have done before? There are certainly a lot of open question about the ending, which I will not be able to answer.
I found the ending quite well done. It felt like it was the right ending. Eleanor at last will be united with Hill House, where she feels at home. I would have loved to read a sequel and/or parallel story, but written from another point of view. Maybe Dr. Montague’s or Theodora’s. It could have shed some light on what was actually happening in Hill House and how much was just imagined by Eleanor, since in the end it seems that everything did not even happen. For example, the blood-stained clothes of Theodora’s, which appeared not to be stained after all.
Finally, for my recommendation. I don’t feel like The Haunting of Hill House is a classic ghost story. It certainly features such elements but I didn’t get a lot of the haunted-house-vibe I was hoping to get. Nonetheless, it was a solid book that I read in a short amount of time. I wouldn’t recommend it for hardcore horror fans, because this book cannot provide that whatsoever. Everyone else who wants to try their hand at this classic is welcome to do so!