The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson: Review

haunting…Or bad architecture will drive you crazy.

Dr Montague decides to send letters to people who may have had some kind of previous psychic experience in order to entice them to come to Hill House: an isolated, weirdo house in the boonies that might be haunted. Only two people reply, people who have nothing better to do, Theodora, who's fighting with her roommate and Eleanor, who needs to get away from her awful sister. These three, along with the heir to Hill House, Luke, head on up to the old mansion in the name of science.
At first everyone is all "Let's tell witty jokes, old chums, and drink brandy" but soon Hill House starts doing its tricks. Tricks that seem to affect Eleanor more so than anyone else.

The Haunting of Hill House is superbly written. This was my second or third reading and this time I tried to just go with whatever was happening here. Previously, I had been influenced by that awful Catherine Zeta Jones movie (and the Scary Movie version). However, there was still a point when I was considering whether or not Mrs Dudley (the caretaker who tells them all individually that she doesn't stay after dark and will not be able to hear them scream) was feeding them schrooms. Things get weird. Real weird. Shirley Jackson is an evil genius.

Eleanor is an unreliable narrator. She lies, to the others and herself. She's had a terribly boring life having spent most of it looking after her mother. Her sister and her brother-in-law are the worst people ever. She's made up an imaginary life that she passes off as her own. Eleanor already seems like a space cadet and much younger than her 32 years. She's dreamy and strange, either she's easy pickings for Hill House or is the creator of all the activity. At times, I felt sorry for poor Eleanor, but also annoyed with her. Eleanor, you can be annoying, girl.

Being stuck in Eleanor's head is frustrating since the reader can only know what she knows and experience what she does. Everything gets filtered through her. What do Luke, Theodora, and the doctor see? How do they really feel about Eleanor? It's my opinion that Theodora is a mean girl. She uses Eleanor when she needs to but hates to have attention taken off herself. Theo plays some mean tricks and says cruel things. Then again, maybe she got on her nerves. All the characters get annoyed with Eleanor at some point.

Hill House might be haunted or it might not. People in the village avoid it. The house sits under the hills in the woods within the sights of a misanthropic village. The family has a history of nastiness over who has a right to own it and one person committed suicide over it. The original owner and builder had some weird ideas and terrible taste. He had it built so that nothing inside it is straight and the the inner hallways have a funhouse effect with rooms opening into other rooms. The decor is tacky and there is a general icky feel to the place. Time itself behaves strangely here. There aren't any hauntings by monks or nuns but there is a cold spot. It's just a nasty place.
"Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone."
The Haunting of Hill House has an unexpected ending and even after reading it more than once, I'm still shocked by it. I don't think I'll ever get to the bottom of every mystery at Hill House, no matter how many times I read it.

19 comments:

  1. I have been meaning to read this one forever! Around Halloween I always see so many great reviews of it. If I remember correctly, there is an old movie version with Vincent Price that is pretty creepy. I don't remember the ending of it though, so thankfully I can read the book without it being given away. :)

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    1. There is an old movie but I don't recall who is in it. Price would be perfect though.

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  2. I don't know if you've ever listened to the audiobook version narrated by Bernadette Dunne, but it is quite extraordinary. But in print or audio, the story is amazing. Once you see her impact on other writers, you can see how much they owe her! I love this and The y Have ALways Lived in the Castle as well :-)

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    1. I'm not sure why my google account posts me anonymously!

      dog eared copy/Tanya

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  3. I'm going to be reading this soon and cannot wait to start it. I've only read Jackson's Lottery so I'm excited to read something more by her.

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    1. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is good too. All of her stuff is so good.

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  4. I really want to read this one! The only other one I've read of hers is We Have Always Lived in the Castle and LOVED it!

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    1. YOU MUST READ THIS, CHRIS! Sorry, I get very pushy and cappy about Jackson.

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  5. I would have totally accepted that invitation.

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  6. I've read this one many, many times. It's a classic and yet it's such a simple story. I often think "simple" and timeless is what makes a story a classic.

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    1. It is a simple story. At the same time, it feels like so much is going on that you don't see. I love that!

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  7. I LOVE THIS BOOK! I will read it again, but it sure scared the poo-schnickens out of me. "and whatever walked there, walked alone," is just a kickass way to start. Creepies right off the bat.

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  8. I love this book so much. I have only read it once but really I was impressed. I should read it again soon!

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  9. After I trumpeted the virtues of the book to my now-husband and then went to see that 1999 movie version, I probably spent a week trying to impress upon him that the book *was not that*. The 1963 version is darn good, though, if you haven't seen it.

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  10. I really enjoyed this - and I'm still not totally sure about the ending - I've even been back a few times and reread the last few chapters!
    Lynn :D

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  11. I really, really need to read this book! I meant to this year, but can't find which box I put it in! :(

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  12. "Shirley Jackson is an evil genius" -- haha, so true!

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