The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

1959. Viking. Hardcover. 246 pages.

For the challenge:

RIP Challenge: Peril the Second

Recommendation found at:

books i done read

From: the library

In a nutshell:

A professor researching the paranormal invites several guests to participate in the study of a purportedly haunted house, Hill House.  The group consists of the professor, two women with some past paranormal experiences, and a young man related to the house’s owners.  It doesn’t take too long for eerie things to start happening in Hill House and to start affecting the dynamic of this group of strangers.


I loved that the library copy of this book was old, worn and a bit stained.  It helped with the atmosphere of this unsettling tale.

Although the story is told in the third-person, the reader’s point of view is mostly limited to that of Eleanor, a lonely woman who has just spent the last decade of her life tending to her ailing mother.  The book introduces her memorably:

Eleanor Vance was thirty-two years old when she came to Hill House.  The only person in the world she genuinely hated, now that her mother was dead, was her sister.  She disliked her brother-in-law and her five-year-old niece, and she had no friends.

As the reader, one spends quite a bit of time in Eleanor’s head.  Out of all the main characters, she is the one most vulnerable, the weakest, and also perhaps the oddest.  It was often awkward if not uneasy to be in her mind.  I sympathized with Eleanor and even identified with her at moments, but then she would think or say something just a bit off.  This perspective lends a certain unsteadiness to the narrative.  Thus things are already off kilter even before Hill House starts terrorizing its inhabitants.

Jackson takes it slow with the creepiness at first.  The characters exchange wit and get friendly and familiar with each other.  I love that the wit persists throughout the novel, as it throws the creepy bits into even starker relief.   At first it is simple things like: doors never stay open in Hill House.  The house is designed to disorient its guests and keep them in darkness.

The guests’ exploration of the disused nursery is when the house starts to appear truly sinister.  And then that night, the two women wake to find that something is seeking them out.  I won’t go into details, but even though I was sitting in a sunlit room, I felt shivery.

The professor tells the history of the house near the beginning of their stay, and though there is no neat parallel between the house’s past and the present-day characters, there is some delicious suggestion of connection and parallels.  Are the characters behaving like the estranged sisters of Hill House’s past, who grew up “like mushrooms in the dark”?  Or maybe someone is like that old woman’s companion, convinced of a nightly thief and intruder, herself accused of a grasping nature?

I like that the book is more suggestive than explanatory.  Creepiness is intensified when not everything is answered in the end.  Was it really a dog that Luke and the professor chased out of the house?  What followed Theo and Eleanor into that clearing?

I was slightly disappointed in the ending, feeling that the final climactic event was not quite the payoff I wanted after all the effective eerie atmosphere.  The very last phrase however, a repetition from the novel’s beginning passage, has acquired an extra meaning it didn’t have before and I liked that.

So far, a great start to the RIP Challenge.

More reviews:

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Filed under Book Review

14 responses to “The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

  1. I’m glad you liked it! Jackson’s other well-known book, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, is probably better on a technical level, as far as the plot and characters go, but I’m fondest of The Haunting of Hill House. What can I say? I love a haunted house. 🙂

  2. Jackson is so good at horrific suspense; gives you the good kind of chills.

    Have you read her short story, “The Lottery”? It’s usually most people’s introduction to her and it’s quite a little gem that’s typical of her work, in my eyes.

  3. I love haunted house books and this is one of the best. I love the part where they are in the bedroom, with the house coming alive all around them.

  4. diane

    Hi Christy…I wasn’t able to respond to your comment on the cover of Resurrection in May. Yes, her head in tipped back as she is running free in the field it appears.

    BTW…Haunting of Hill House sounds great for the RIP V challenge – enjoy

  5. Janel

    Sounds too spooky for me!!!

  6. Eva

    I remember wishing for a bit more of a climax too, although I really liked it! I love We Have Always Lived in the Castle more, but I think I’m in the minority. 😉

  7. I love your copy of this. I accidentally bought a movie tie-in version that is just called The Haunting. Thankfully that won’t change the contents.

  8. She

    Ahh, love this book! I thought the creepiness was just perfect– not too force but enough to scare the bajeezus outta you. That is a great copy!

  9. Jenny – I have heard great things about We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but yeah, I couldn’t resist a book about a haunted house for this challenge. It’s a classic scary-story premise!

    Lit Omnivore – Yes, I read “The Lottery” when I was in high school. That’s a story that definitely sticks with you!

    daphne – Yes, I think I know which part you are talking about. The whole sounds on the other side of the door part was the most sinister to me, more than some of the other manifestations.

    diane – thanks for getting back to me on that!

    Janel – Because quite a bit is left unexplained, it certainly has a lingering spooky effect. So good call if that’s not your thing!

    Eva – actually, going through some of the reviews to link to this post, I think you are not alone in that opinion about the two books.

  10. Thomas – my photo does cut off a bit of the cover, but it is a great design with the plants crowding in the foreground and the outline of the house behind. Very old school, I like it.

    She – I agree, the scariness was at a nice pitch. I love the scary things that retain some mystery about them.

  11. I really must read something by Shirley Jackson. She is always mentioned a bunch of times for this challenge and I still haven’t read her!

  12. I felt similar to you about the end, part of me didn’t feel sastifed by it after the tension had built so high.
    I agree with Eva my favourite Jackson so far is We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Very different tale to this but still veeeery creepy.

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