THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE
by Shirley Jackson

PUBLISHER: Penguin Classics
RELEASE DATE: First published 1959
FORMAT: Paperback, 246 pages
GENRE: Paranormal

Four seekers have arrived at the rambling old pile known as Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of psychic phenomena; Theodora, his lovely and lighthearted assistant; Luke, the adventurous future inheritor of the estate; and Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman with a dark past. As they begin to cope with chilling, even horrifying occurrences beyond their control or understanding, they cannot possibly know what lies ahead. For Hill House is gathering its powers – and soon it will choose one of them to make its own. (Amazon)

REVIEWER: Melanie

The story starts by introducing us to Dr Montague who is wants to make a name for himself by studying the supernatural, specifically haunted houses. He discovers Hill House which is a renowned for being haunted and invites a motley set of assistants to help him observe the ‘ghostly’ phenomenon. The  central characters are introduced to the reader partly from the viewpoint of Dr Montague, much like you are reading a page from his diary and then segue in to a first person account of their lives and how they have ended up at Hill House.

The story focuses most heavily on Eleanor who has had a sad and lonely existence taking care of the invalid mother she hated. Eleanor is delighted, throughout the story, with Hill House despite being warned away from the start. Eleanor has some experience with the paranormal in her childhood but this is neither really explained nor even discussed other than in the introductory paragraphs. She is immediately drawn to the more flighty and artist Theodore who is staying in the room beside her. Theodora is an artist/artist model who has had an argument with her roommate (or more likely boyfriend) and decides to take up the offer to stay at Hill House for the summer as a means of escape. She is everything you would expect from a character set in this time period and it is not hard to see how the less worldly and sheltered Eleanor would be enamoured with her. Luke, the future heir of Hill House and general ‘lay about cad’ is the final member of the group. He plays a rather background role in the story until the final chapters where we see a bit more of him than just drinking brandy and playing chess with Dr Montague.

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE had the beginnings of a really strong ghost story but in the end was the tiniest bit dull. I enjoyed the writing style and found it reminiscent of Daphne Du Maurier but unlike Du Maurier the characterisation was lacking. While Eleanor was more developed than the other characters there really wasn’t much substance to Dr Montague, Theodora or Luke.  I did like how Jackson turned the house into a character in its own right but I wasn’t clear on who or what made the house so malevolent. I always find it odd in both movies and novels where the characters are told ‘don’t go there, the house is haunted’, or ‘ run away as fast as you can’ but the still the characters persist and then usually end up terrified and/or dead. I guess there wouldn’t be a story without them taking the leap! In THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE the characters are warned off by the caretakers, the Dudleys but their dire warnings are unheeded. Even after a night of ghastly ghostly terrors the characters just leap out of bed and rush down to see enjoy a delicious breakfast and this seemed completely incongruous with what makes a ghost story scary. The characters had no sense of impending doom or seem the least bit frightened after the evening’s haunting was finished and therefore, there was no build up or suspense. In the end I just didn’t care what happened to any of the characters, in fact was looking forward to a ghost related murder.

VERDICT:

I was really looking forward to reading THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE as I was convinced as it was a classic that it was going to be a really chilling ghost story. I was however, left quite disappointed. The characters seemed to forget the ghastly, ghostly happenings almost immediately after they happened and more concerned about the quality of the soufflé than they were about what was going on around them. While the narrative was very true to the period and was rich in subtext I wasn’t shocked or unnerved by the story Jackson was trying to tell. For a ghost story it felt a bit flat.

RATING: 
SCARE FACTOR:

SHIRLEY JACKSON ONLINE
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Melanie

A displaced Canadian living in the UK who when not reading is often found trawling through GoodReads looking for something to read or buying another book on Amazon. [Melanie no longer reviews for the site.]

17 Comments


Laura October 11, 2012 at 7:23 am

Boo! Same it wasn’t as good as you hoped it would be. It doesn’t look like one for me, I enjoyed your review though.

Reply

Melanie October 11, 2012 at 8:55 am

Is that booooo or just boo?

Reply

Carolyn October 11, 2012 at 8:23 am

I am mighty upset to see your rating of this one as I thought it would be a good one. I’ve seen lots of reviews of this one and they all seem to be very positive. Shame you didn’t like it but just shows how we’re all very different. Great review, M :)

Reply

Melanie October 11, 2012 at 9:01 am

I too thought it was going to be goody but it was just a bit flat. Perhaps I was expecting more from it and if you read it you might think differently.

Reply

Gemma October 11, 2012 at 12:01 pm

I remember seeing the film starring catherine zeta-jones and Liam Neeson, based on this book. Can’t say even that was all that scary, though it did seem to stray from the book slightly

Shame it didn’t live up to the hype, but a good review none the less.

Reply

Melanie October 11, 2012 at 1:01 pm

A Catherine Zeta-Jones/Liam Neeson combo sounds scary but not for any ghosty reasons

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Gemma October 11, 2012 at 3:33 pm

It also starred Owen Wilson……

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0171363/

Reply

Melanie October 11, 2012 at 3:52 pm

I didn’t think it was possible for it to get worse!

Reply

Bibliotropic October 11, 2012 at 12:27 pm

I’d love to see how this book compares to the movie versions. It’s definitely on my To Read list, even if it’s not particularly scary.

Reply

Melanie October 11, 2012 at 1:04 pm

If you watch it let me know if it is any good. I didn’t even realise it was a movie.

Reply

Melissa October 11, 2012 at 8:23 pm

This is the problem with most scary stories…how to explain away the fact that the characters put themselves (and left themselves) in the dangerous situation. anyone with a brain would have run!

Reply

Melanie October 11, 2012 at 9:43 pm

I agree! I would have turned the car around the minute someone said ‘don’t go any farther’.

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Jeanine Elizalde October 11, 2012 at 8:47 pm

This is one of my favorite books. Bear in mind the time frame in which it was written. Its not like today where paranormal books, movies and tv shows abound. It was actually ground-breaking for its time. And Ms. Jackson certainly knew how to turn a phrase.

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Melanie October 11, 2012 at 9:46 pm

I agree there was nothing to fault with the writing style. I am a big fan of Daphne Du Maurier which was written around the same time so I was not expecting modern day scariness. I guess I just didn’t gel with the characters.

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Ryan October 13, 2012 at 4:17 pm

I recently finished reading this for the upteenth time, and I still love it. I guess I’m attracted to the more psychological horror than I am to the physical.

As far as the movie versions go, the Catherine Zeta Jones/ Liam Neeson was attrocious. The 1963 version with Julie Harris and Claire Bloom was much better.

Reply

Melanie October 13, 2012 at 7:14 pm

I was surprised I wasn’t that fond of it. I prefer psychological thrillers but it just didn’t work for me. Perhaps it came to close to me reading back to back modern setting stories.

I am not surprised the CZJ/LN movie version was atrocious.

Reply

schools.gmuca.org April 26, 2013 at 12:04 pm

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