The Haunting of Hill House

by Shirley Jackson

...whatever walked there, walked alone.


Genre: Horror
Original Publication Date: 1959
Reviewed: July 2004

        Isolated, brooding Hill House is reputed to be haunted. One summer, four people gather there to investigate. Dr. Montague wants to prove the existence of hauntings scientifically. Lovely Theodora needs a place to stay for the summer. Luke, the dashing young heir to the house, is supposed to keep an eye on the estate for his aunt. And Eleanor has been waiting all her life for something to happen - something like Hill House.

Cover: The Haunting of Hill House         I'm a big fan of horror novels and ghost stories, and have read more of them than I can count. The Haunting of Hill House is probably my favorite. It's not the flashiest or the scariest (though it certainly has its chilling moments). But somehow, it sticks in my mind, and draws me back again and again. I first read it when I was in elementary school. (It was in the children's section of the public library.) I liked it then, though I didn't love it. As I grew up, I got to appreciate it more and more, and now, thirty years later, I find that I re-read it regularly. Somehow, I always seem to find something new in it.

        Is it scary? Yes, but in a quiet way. The horror elements in this book are rather subdued by modern standards. But that makes them even more effective, because they seem more possible. The end of chapter 5 scared me a lot more than any number of Steven Spielberg's skeletons shooting out of the ground at warp 10.

        Another reason I enjoy this book is that I've moved to the northeast since I first read it. I don't know if Jackson had an actual town in mind when she wrote this novel, but there are a lot of them like the one she describes. She may have written this 45 years ago, but some things haven't changed much.

        Another interesting element in this book: there's a gay character. It's very subtly done, but unmistakable. Okay, it would hardly raise an eyebrow now, but by 1959 standards, it's pretty daring. Beautiful, feminine Theodora is not a stereotypical lesbian, either. She's flawed, as are all the characters, but not a bad person. And she isn't "converted" to heterosexuality at the end of the book.

        As for the ending...well, Dean Koontz fans will probably be disappointed, but I thought it was perfect. It's not a very happy ending. And you're left wondering if the house is really haunted, or if it was all in Eleanor's mind. But somehow, it's the right ending for this book.

Related Links:

Dark Echo - An article about Shirley Jackson, and how she came to write The Haunting of Hill House.