The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

“No human eye can isolate or at an odd angle, the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house, and yet somehow a manic juxtaposition, a badly turned angle, some chance meeting of roof and sky, turned Hill House into a place of despair, more frightening because the face of Hill House seemed awake, with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice. Almost any house, caught unexpectedly or at an odd angle, can turn a deeply humourous look on a watching person; even a mischievous little chimney, or a dormer like a dimple, can catch up a beholder with a sense of fellowship; but a house arrogant and hating, never off guard, can only be evil. “

The story of a house. A house with a troubled history. A house that is reputed to be haunted. A house owned, but unoccupied.

An academic leases the house, and invites a number of carefully selected guests to stay there with him. He hopes to uncover the truth about Hill House.

And so the stage is set.

The visitors expect to stay for a stay a month, and they arrive expecting a quiet escape from the world. But strange things begin to happen. Hill House, it seems, is taking hold of them.

The new occupants of Hill House are unremarkable, dull even, but that didn’t matter. Hill House mattered, and I was impatient when the occupants distracted me from the house.

What happened at Hill House was frightening, and deeply unsettling. All the more so because it was set against many mundane, everyday actions and conversations.

But the horrors of Hill House were all the more frightening because they were unseen.

And because they were refracted through the mind of a woman who was maybe a little unbalanced. That left room to ask questions. To ask whether the haunting came from the house or from a disturbed mind. A mind that was breaking down.

Shirley Jackson executed her story beautifully. It rose and fell. It had so many details and nuances. I found it quite impossible to let go.

She left space to react, which made it all the more disturbing.

The final act brought a masterstoke. At first it felt wrong, but then I realised it was entirely right. I wish I could explain, but I can’t without giving too much away.

And then there was an ending, but not a resolution. Unanswered questions remained, as sometimes in life they must.

And now Hill House. is haunting me.

I may go back, as I’m sure there are things I missed, things I might feel different about on a second visit …

16 responses

  1. I haven’t read anything by Shirley Jackson yet but I’m planning to read We Have Always Lived in the Castle soon for the RIP challenge. Now I think I’ll have to add this one to my list too.

    • We Have Always Lived in the Castle is extraordinary, and I’ll look out for your thoughts. This one is quite different, but definitely woth adding to your list too.

  2. Yes, that film was based on this very book. I’ve not seen it, but i have seen an earlier adaptation with Claire Bloom and Julie Harris that was very, very good.

  3. I just picked up We Have Always Lived in the Castle from the library for the RIP challenge. I love Shirley Jackson, and I didn’t realize she wrote this book. I may have to pick up a copy sometime soon. The only other thing I’ve read by her is her collection of short stories, The Lottery, so I’m really excited to get started on something a little longer. 🙂

  4. We Have Always Lived in the Castle was wonderful – finished it last year on Halloween night during a power outage. So perfect! I’m hoping to come across a copy of The Haunting of Hill House soon.

  5. I read this a few years ago, and thought it was very good (although not as good as We Have Always Lived in the Castle, imo) – the idea of all the angles being slightly off was brilliant. And, as Eva mentions, that hand… *shudder*

  6. This is one of my favourite books! I interpret something differently every time I read it. Unlike you, I find the characters just as interesting as the house, but that may be because I think of the house as the main character and all others supporting it.

    And yes, it was made into a film several years ago with Catherine Zeta Jones and Liam Neeson…but the film had very little to do with the actual book!

    Thanks for the review. Happy reading!

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