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Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Haunting of Hill House


Dr. Montague, a researcher into paranormal activity, has rented the fabled Hill House for the summer. The house has a reputation for being haunted. Very few people have managed to stay in it for more than a night. In order to sort of help the house do its worst, he invites people to stay with him who have had paranormal experiences. The only two who take him up on his offer are Theodora and Eleanor. Luke, the future heir to the house, also comes along. It does not take long for the house to show what it's made of.

I think this might have been ruined for me by the narrator. The book is in third person, but is told from Eleanor's point of view. Why on earth did someone choose to have a man narrate? For the right book, he would be fine, and he did what he could with this. An older man with a deep voice is just not the right person to lead us down Eleanor's thoughts when she's so very--weak, maybe? No, uncertain is the better word. She's uncertain of her place in the world, in the house, in the group. She's also a dreamer who has a tenuous grasp on reality at best. The narrator definitely needed to be a young woman.

Eleanor herself is something else. Her thoughts get to be a little disturbing. She's definitely an unreliable sort-of-narrator. I never really knew what was happening in the real world and what was only happening in her head. For that matter, I never knew what she was actually doing.

Aside from that, I think I expected more of a horror angle. Sure, the house does get up to some crazy things, but nothing as bad as what I expected. I don't feel like there was a very good reason for all the previous renters to leave after one night. But then I'm not actually in the house, am I?

The retainers were probably the freakiest things about the house. The old man was downright scary when Eleanor first encounters him!

I'm not sure what I expected at the end, but it wasn't what I got. I just sat in the car and blinked for a few minutes after it ended. It definitely made sense, but wow. Unexpected.

Read this if you're in the mood for something that's walking the line between gothic and horror. Just don't listen to the version narrated by David Warner.

Buy The Haunting of Hill House at


I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop's, my local independent bookstore located in downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site.

2 comments:

  1. I did a readathon in October and this was being read by quite a few of the other participants and recommended a lot. I still kind of fancy it but I won't be in too much of a hurry...

    I'm not sure what I expect from ghost stories but it's never quite what I end up getting. Maybe this is for a gloomy, gothic day instead of a day when I want horror!

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  2. Oh right, you listened to the audio book. I read this book years ago, and having seen the two adaptations of it, the book is my favourite. The modern adaptation really has very little to do with it.

    What I like about the book is that the house is built to be playing with people's minds, rather than actually being haunted. That they mention Borley Rectory, use planchettes and go around measuring cold spots made me smile. A lot of paranormal stories tend to lose their appeal when you're decently read in parapsychology ("that's not how that phenomenon manifests itself at all!"), so the good thing about The Haunting (the book) is that it can still be read and enjoyed. :)

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