Name: The Haunting of Hill House
Author: Shirley Jackson
Number of Pages: 246 (Kindle)
Published: October 1st 2013 by Penguin Classics (first published October 16th 1959)
The classic supernatural thriller by an author who helped define the genre. First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting;’ Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.
Eleanor’s first thought upon seeing the house to which she has been invited to spend the summer as part of a party exploring psychic phenomena is to leave at once, and yet she doesn’t, and so we discover Hill House.
Hill House with its unsettling angles and oddly proportioned rooms, set out in a deliberately distorted way so that rooms are not where they would logically be. The house has a vivid and disquieting and unsettling history of unhappiness and tragedy and the assurance in the very first paragraph that ‘whatever walked there, walked alone’.
The story has an engulfing atmosphere that seeps from each page the further you read, rather as it seeps into the characters, drawn together by the enthusiastic Dr Montague.
It’s a real slow burn, starting out innocently enough as we meet each of the house party before Hill House starts to take a hold.
There’s Eleanor, travelling whilst her daydreams occupy so much of her journey to the house, and Theo with her apparent telepathic talent, who dons a bright yellow top to go exploring the grounds, remaining cheerfully brave in the face of such an unnerving locale. Luke is there as the heir to Hill House, with it’s dark and troubling history of sorrow and misfortune.
This group of strangers intend to observe and record any instances of strange phenomena to add to Dr. Montague’s proposed book on the topic.
For at least the first half, there’s a sense of being lulled into a false security, as the characters pass their first night uneventfully, and come to believe that things will be not as bad as first speculated. Needless to say, this is not the case, and the situation becomes more unsettling as time goes on. There’s a slight break in the tense atmosphere at the arrival of Montague’s wife and her sidekick Arthur, as the pair begin to take over the investigations, but by that point it’s already too late for at least one member of the ill-fated party.
The Haunting of Hill House is a beautifully written tale which leaves so much open to speculation. Is Eleanor ill? Is the house really haunted? And what of the rest of the characters after the events of Hill House? This is definitely a book to savour over the dark nights of autumn and winter.