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The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson - Book Review

Updated: Jan 1, 2021

What It's About

Three strangers, Eleanor, Theodora and Luke, are brought to Hill House by Dr. Montague who is interested in studying the paranormal happenings within the old house. During their stay of about a week and as the guests learn more about the history and past owners, they are haunted by an unknown entity.

**I have to note that the synopsis on the back of my book (and a few reviewers that I follow) say that Theodora is Dr. Montague's assistant and I'm pretty certain that she wasn't. I looked back through the book and couldn't find anything besides that she didn't know him and had never met him before. If you know differently than me, please let me know because this inconsistency is grating on me!

*** I also have to note that the infamousness of Hill House is a little bit odd because no one ever actually reported anything happening there - the only real evidence of "haunting" is that anyone who tried living there, moved out almost instantly for, according to them, benign reasons.

What I Thought

- Spoilers? I don't know. I guess.

I was so excited at first. After the whole The Turn of the Screw debacle, I was a bit nervous to start this one because I was worried it would be just as disappointing. But, as I started reading it, I thought "YES, this is what I was looking for!"

I really enjoyed the first half of the novel. I loved how the house was described and how it became a character itself. Honestly, I have read a few gothic novels where big old houses were obviously characterized (as per the genre), but I have never seen one described as Hill House was. Usually, they are described as grand beautiful Victorian mansions with all these dark, lovely, intricate details. Hill House was described, quite frankly, as being vile. It was ugly. It was wrong. It was uncomfortable and it was built that way on purpose - the angles were wrong, doors and windows were slightly off center. I liked that it wasn't some unexplained wrongness. It was physically wrong.

I really didn't enjoy the characters and, even more, I didn't enjoy their relationships with each other or their

interactions with one another. This is where, The Turn of the Screw comes in. The thing I didn't like the most about that book was that the governess made no sense, she was hysterical and obviously losing it but not even in an interesting way. The exact same thing happened at Hill House. One of the female characters becomes hysterical, loses her mind and goes on and on and on about stuff that makes no sense. Most of the time, the characters were just being ridiculous and at times, we were plopped seemingly into the middle of their conversations that didn't make any sense about things that I didn't care about and had nothing to do with the story. This really shows Eleanor's mental decline and the reason for it makes sense to me, but I just didn't enjoy it.

The hauntings themselves, I thought were quite good. Nothing really huge happened, but the way that Jackson describes the things that do happen is so eerie and I did find the scenarios themselves to be very chilling though it was never quite clear if they were really happening. Eleanor was a very unreliable narrator, almost too unreliable, I thought. It was obvious that everything she thought, said, experienced and witnessed was completely skewed because none of it really made any sense.

Not everyone needs a perfectly tied up story, but I think that I do. I like it when I'm told a story and I'm told what's happening. When too much is left to conjecture, it loses my interest and I think that it's a missed opportunity. I don't need or want my imagination to fill in the blanks because I'm in my imagination all the time. I read books to navigate someone else's messed up psyche not further explore my own. In this book, literally nothing gets explained. Throughout the story there are little tidbits that seem to be left dangling for further tying, but nothing ever gets tied. Again, this could be because of Eleanor's unreliable narration of the events, but still I think the story would have been better served if a few things were explained more fully.

I know that I'm not alone in saying that this book came onto my radar after watching the Netflix adaptation last year. The show is VERY loosely based on the book. Basically, there is the house and some of the characters have the same names - otherwise it's completely different. That aside, the show was SO GOOD. I loved it and there are very few times I have been as thoroughly creeped as I was while watching that show. It was incredibly haunting, the tone of it was superbly done, the story was great, the acting was great. Honestly, nothing scares me more in the world than "the bent neck lady". I highly recommend it to anyone who can handle it (which is not many people in my life).

I also just want to throw in there that there were a few things from The Haunting of Bly Manor the show that showed up in The Haunting of Hill House the book. Just little details like things being "perfectly splendid". Flora, one of the children, repeats it constantly after hearing their previous governess say it. I expected while reading The Turn of the Screw that I would come across the phrase because it was used so heavily in the show, but I don't remember seeing it all and then was surprised to find that things at Hill House were "perfectly splendid."


Ahhhh P.S - My baby brain has been trying to work out exactly why another character was added to the group of main characters for the television show and why her name was Shirley. Apparently, I'm brain dead because I just put it together...

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