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.