The Haunting in Hill House Review
Updated: Mar 15, 2019
by Shirley Jackson
Published in 1959
It is so crazy to think that after being published 70 years ago, this book is becoming more popular now thanks to the Netflix original series of the same name. I was hesitant to read the book because I heard it was so different from the show and because it was published so long ago, but I am glad I gave The Haunting of Hill House a chance because it was a true horror novel.
Dr. Montague invites several people to come live in Hill House over the summer so that he can observe if this residence is as haunted as they say. Eleanor Vance, a 32 year old single young woman with no friends and no close relations to her siblings and a dead mother decides to be the first to show up at Hill House upon receiving the invitation. Theadora is the next to accept after leaving her partner and out of curiosity as to what is expected to occur in the house. Last to accept is Luke, a lying thief whose family owns the house and is glad to get rid of him in any way they can.
They immediately notice the strangeness of the home, especially Eleanor whose first thought before she entered Hill House was, “Her deep unwillingness to touch Hill House for the first time came directly from the vivid feeling that it was waiting for her, evil, but patient”. The house is maintained by the Dudleys who make it clear that they will be on the property during the day, but never at night or in the dark. The first few days at Hill House are relatively quiet besides the strange shutting of doors and constantly getting lost in the maze of rooms within the house. But the feeling of dread as if the house is watching them and waiting never goes away. Eleanor begins displaying this dream-like view of the house and her experience there, pretending as if this was a fairytale.
The first strange manifestation in the house displays itself when Theadora and Eleanor are trapped in their room as violent pounding outside their door occurs, even though Dr. Montague and Luke are downstairs chasing after a mysterious dog that appears and disappears. By morning, they all act as if it was a weird phenomenon that won’t occur anymore and that they shouldn’t fear the house. Then later, they find chalk all over the wall that says “HELP ELEANOR COME HOME”. Eleanor immediately begins feeling as if something in the house is coming after her and not the others, so they all begin making sure that Eleanor isn’t left alone.
Mrs. Montague and Arthur show up later in the house, assuming that Dr. Montague hasn’t been successful with any manifestations in the house. While she is there, she tries talking to any spirits in the house and begins writing down that they are looking for Eleanor to come home, the same that she saw earlier on the walls. As Eleanor climbs up the rusty stairs in the library and almost jumps off the railing, Dr. Montague, Luke, and Theadora fear that Eleanor might be getting influenced by the house and tells her that she needs to go home. She informs them that she has no home since she was living in her sister’s house but stole their car to come here and that Hill House can be her new home. They pack her up in her car, which she immediately crashes into a tree in front of Hill House and dies. Everyone returns back to their normal life and never discuss their stay at Hill House again.
Final Rating & Thoughts: 9/10
I am shocked at how much I really enjoyed this novel! I finished it within a day because the story just pulls you in. This was published in 1959 and I find books that are older like that uses words and phrases that are out of date and can be distracting when you read it now. However, I found that this was not the case with this book. The Haunting in Hill House feels like such a timeless horror novel that has aged well because it is the fear of the unknown, the fear of the mystery behind the house, that carries the book. There is no monster and no ghost and nothing tangible that is chasing these characters to strike fear in the reader. It is the fact that this 80 year old house seems to have almost no history behind it and no purpose behind its actions. Even by the end of the novel, we don’t know if it was really the house that influenced Eleanor’s actions or if she was always unhinged.
I think it is really hard to compare the TV show and the novel because they are really very different, but I think it’s in a good way. In the novel, it is a one-time experience that we focus on at this home, which has a history of previous owners and renters who never stay longer than a week for reasons always unknown. In the TV show, I think it also mimics that in the sense that it is just one family who buys the home, however the TV show adds more ghosts and mysteries behind the house that gets uncovered during their stay. I can’t say that one is better than the other, but I do think the TV show really compliments the books because it gives us a visual of the house in a way I think correlates to the house in the novel. In the novel, it focuses more on the treachery and mystery of the house, how it feels like the walls breathe and is slowly sucking you in as part of the house. They even discuss the nursery as being the heart of the house, with it always feeling ice cold. I think that this gets interpreted in the TV show very well with the Red Room being the heart of the house.
Overall, I would recommend this book to others who are a fan of mystery or horror novels because this is the type of book that as you continue reading only builds on your sense of dread. I could already tell something was going to be off when Eleanor stopped in the town before Hill House and it seemed like the town didn’t even know that the house existed. Then when Mrs. Dudley began explaining her rules and how when she leaves, nobody will be around for miles, nobody will be around to hear them scream, I knew damn well my ass would have went upstairs, packed my bag, and left. I love that most of the book focuses more on Eleanor and her thoughts because we can see her mental decline as she becomes more and more drawn into the home all the way till the end when the house no longer scares her, it only makes her happy. When she crashed her car into the tree, I physically gasped because I didn’t imagine the house would have caused her to do this. All I know is I won’t be purchasing any houses on hills… ever.