Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House

“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.”

While moving a couple months back, my thoughts lingered on the types of homes we encounter in fiction. Some are wonderful places we wish we lived in, others are home to terror and pain. But perhaps no fictional home is as iconic as Hill House. I saw the 1963 movie The Haunting on Halloween years ago, and swore to myself I would read the book. Apparently this is a lucky October for me.

Synopsis: Hill House is a blight that holds nothing but terror, or so the legends say. An occult scholar, Dr. Montague, rents the house in hopes of discovering irrefutable evidence of a haunting. With him come three people, the charismatic and colorful Theodora, Luke, the heir to Hill House, and Eleanor, an outcast who sees her time at Hill House as her first real adventure. All are tied to the paranormal, but none have experienced it with such intensity. Hill House is watching them, and it is waiting.

Thoughts: The movie, while iconic, doesn’t hold a candle to the book. The Haunting of Hill House is a classic for a number of reasons. The characters, the writing style, and the setting are iconic. Those coupled with the pacing of the story makes for an intense and memorable read.

Eleanor is actually a shockingly sympathetic character in the book. For those of you familiar with the 1963 version of the film, you’ll no doubt recall that while the main character, Eleanor is hardly sympathetic. In the book her thoughts are fluid and coherent. She has been hurt by the world as many of us have been, and wants a better life for herself. She’s stubborn, whimsical, and curious. Ultimately she wants to be a part of something larger than herself. These things will eventually come back to haunt her (and the others), but that makes her and her relationships with the other characters all the more interesting.

While Luke, Dr. Montague, and Theodora are all interesting characters, aside from Theo, none of them interested me quite as much as Eleanor. Which is precisely the point of the book. Although the book starts from Eleanor’s perspective, and arguably remains from her point of view, as the story progresses we as the reader become more and more aligned with how the house sees Eleanor and her friends. It’s an uncanny experience and the core element that makes this book so frightening.

What makes the book so terrifying is the writing style. The writing style is somehow simplistic and yet beautifully detailed. Jackson has a talent for picking out the right details and weaving them in. Details that crop up at the start of the book find their way deep within the novel. The repetition of some things, and the lack of it for others, helps add suspense. One is never quite sure how something will come into play. The writing style, filled with shockingly long sentences and paragraphs, is unusual, but absolutely brilliant within the book. I don’t think many, if any, other writers could pull it off. In short, the long paragraphs and sentences add on to the suspense, forcing the reader down an odd rabbit hole, trying to absorb each detail.

And finally, the plot itself. I believe the beauty of the plot lies within its simplicity. Four strangers staying in a legendary haunted house. Each of them have some tie to the paranormal or the house itself, and yet each one has their own doubts. There are so, so many things that could go wrong with this scenario, and things do indeed go wrong, but none of it in the way one anticipates. And this is coming from someone who has memorized the 1963 film. The simplicity allows the reader’s imagination to run away with them, and be surprised and frightened over and over again.

This is one of those books where the cliche of “a beautiful and haunting book” is actually quite fitting. If horror is your thing, then you really can’t go wrong with Jackson’s masterpiece. If you’re a fan of classics, again, this is a solid book and worthy of your bookshelves. As a writer I found myself enthralled with the choice of words and the brilliant details. As a reader I was curled at the edge of my sofa, reading, trying to absorb and unravel each mystery presented to me. Jackson is truly a master of horror and has quickly made her way firmly onto my list of favorite authors.

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