The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Penguin Books, 1959. 208 pages.
Recently, the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House has been sending chills up the spine of anyone brave enough to watch. It follows the Crain family as they live in Hill House and later as they try to make sense of the experiences they had there. The series draws inspiration from Shirley Jackson’s classic novel of the same name, and pays homage to the novel through the character’s name, though this is where the similarities end. However, readers in search of a slow-burning, tense narrative should give Shirley Jackson’s masterpiece a read.
The Haunting of Hill House has four main characters: Dr. John Montague, a paranormal researcher, Theodora, a bohemian artist who has had paranormal experiences in the past, Luke Sanderson, the heir to Hill House, and Eleanor Vance, a shy, sheltered woman who has spent most of her life as her mother’s caregiver. Though the novel is told in third person, Eleanor is the clear protagonist. She is the first character introduced, as she steals her sister and brother-in-law’s car to begin her grand adventure. Other characters are introduced, but the majority of the story focuses on this group.
At the story’s start, it seems that The Haunting of Hill House will be light on chills. Eleanor and Theodora become fast friends, exploring the grounds of Hill House and planning picnics. The residents enjoy meals together and play games, and explore the house. Soon, more sinister events begin taking place. Noises are heard, clothes are destroyed, and bizarre writing is found, leading the reader to believe that there might be some credibility to the stories of Hill House’s haunted history.
While The Haunting of Hill House is considered a haunted house story, the true horror comes from Eleanor’s experience in the house. Eleanor is a woman who has devoted her entire life to the needs of others, and her expectations for what her experience at Hill House will bring are extraordinarily high. She has not truly lived up until this moment, and from the story’s start, she has fantasies about how her life will drastically change. Eleanor’s expectations for others are so lofty that when they act in ways she has not expected, she becomes hurt and more haunted. Eleanor is most heavily impacted by the paranormal happenings in Hill House, and it is unclear if these experiences are from external forces of the house or manifestations of Eleanor’s mental illness.
Shirley Jackson shows her mastery as an author of psychological horror by lulling her readers into a safe environment at the story’s start and gradually adding unsettling elements until the story reaches its horrific end. In less than two hundred pages, she creates a story without easy answers that will leave any reader haunted long after they reach the last page, and is well worth a read.
Elizabeth Weislak is the Youth Services Coordinator for Alamance County Public Libraries. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.