Review: The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson mixes tension and suspense with a campiness reminiscent of the board game Clue.  The result is a slim novel that delves into the supernatural, full of colorful characters whose actions and responses are an attempt to deflect or rationalize the presence that embodies Hill House.

The premise for the novel is that a researcher into the supernatural, Dr. Montague, rents Hill House for the summer and recruits people to live there with him as research assistants.  The assistants are supposed to observe, take notes, and discuss any oddities with Dr. Montague.  These characters include Theodora, a sexy, outgoing, young woman who may be empathic; Luke, the eventual heir to Hill House, who is funny, deflective, and wealthy; and Eleanor, the narrator, who is searching for a new way to define herself.

Initially, not much happens in the novel.  It takes a while for the suspense to build.  Characters eye one another and the house seems harmless.  Who will fall prey to Hill House?  Who will betray the group?  Hill House works on the minds of the individuals who inhabit it.  Through the manipulations of the house, distrust grows and mania increases.  Much like the ghost seeking a way into bedroom doors at night, it also seeks a way into the consciousness.

While not as scary as House of Leaves, The Haunting of Hill House is a horror classic worth reading on a stormy Autumn evening.

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