Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson


The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson


Edition Purchased: TV Tie-In Edition, Published October 9th 2018 by Penguin Classics, 256 pages

Links: GoodreadsAmazon, Wordery, Book Depository


Dr Montague, an occult scholar, invites three others to join him in an experiment recording supernatural events at Hill House. Luke is a thief and the future inheritor of the estate; Theodora lives in a world of her own making, with a history of mind reading; and Eleanor Vance, lonely and ignored, once witnessed a poltergeist. Slowly, they begin to realise the house is waiting- and it’s ready to claim one of them as its own.

As a lot of people in recent months have done, I picked this up because of the Hill House Netflix adaptation [£2.50 in HMV, you’re welcome]. Making that decision was the best thing I could have done: while the two are completely different, they both take the same premise- a haunted house trying to claim people for itself- and run as far as they can with it in opposite directions.

In the novel, our narrator is Eleanor Vance. Lonely since the death of her mother, who she looked after for 11 years, and bullied by her older sister, Eleanor jumps at the request to join the others in Hill House.

Quickly, we learn why- like I said, she’s lonely. Her remaining family treats her badly, she has no friends, and never really bothered with romance. And here she is in a house with three other relative strangers, making quick friends with all three and finally feeling like she belongs- which is where the horror starts, for her.

Eleanor is unreliable. She says one thing to her companions and then feels another, sometimes hiding deep hatred for all of them, believing they don’t want her there. Her character is rooted in, not self pity, but extreme anxiety that everybody hates her, which makes her appear meek at first. In that sense, she was relatable, but you still had no idea where she stood with anyone, really. The same goes for every other character, especially Theo, who was equally, if not more, unpredictable, and I loved that.

And, yes, she was unreliable, but that doesn’t mean she was unlikeable. She really was likeable! She had a sense of humour and spent a lot of time standing up to anyone who tried to belittle her, including her sister, Theo, Luke- all of them, up until the end of the novel, she fought against. At one point, Luke tries to make her pity him for all of his troubles, and she essentially tells him to stop foisting all his personal issues onto women and actually seek professional help instead of trying to get every woman he meets to fix him ‘out of love’. Shirley Jackson basically wrote a feminist icon, and I wish that was more prominent in the TV show version of Eleanor.

What compelled me most about Eleanor was her close relationship with Theo. Theo lives with a roommate, whose gender we never learn, who she falls out with right before leaving to Hill House. Eleanor, having grown up without any close friends, latches onto Theo, who does the same with her, and they grow… close. Close enough that they share a bed; they share clothes; hold hands; they spend nearly every moment of their day together, initially, and even after everything goes up the wall [literally and metaphorically], they confide in one another and care about one another, despite their bitterness.

I’m not saying Eleanor Vance is a lesbian, but- wait, no, she’s definitely a lesbian.

Shirley Jackson also creates a setting that isn’t only terrifying, but alive. Everything about Hill House feels living, sinister, and watching it get into the minds of the main cast was chilling. That’s something the TV show did well, in my opinion, and I owe my thanks to Shirley Jackson for creating source material so scary. If I could compare this to anything, it would be The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. As I write that, I am filled with the urge to write a whole essay comparing female insanity and male control in those two texts.

My one issue was the ending, but the more I sit on it, the more I like how rushed it is. It’s a heartbreaking ending, while being really eerie at the same time, which is why I’m so torn up about rating it.

I have never read something that’s got to me quite like this before. From start to finish I was scared, so much so that I had to read the last 30 pages in my sister’s room so I wasn’t alone in my room. I was so attached to Eleanor, and to Theo, Luke and the Doctor, in spite of their very massive flaws, and I highly recommend this to everyone umm’ing and aw’ing over reading it because they’ve already watched the show.

RATING:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5




3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

  1. Pingback: Mid-Year Book Freak Out Tag! – seasonsofwords

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  3. Pingback: Book Review: Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink – seasonsofwords

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