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A Passion For Horror

Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson


The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House

By Shirley Jackson

'Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more.'


I had always wanted to read The Haunting of Hill House, but I could never find it in any of the local book shops. When I enquired about it, I was told that the is not available in the UK. One shop did, however, offer to import a copy from the States. That sounded like a lot of hassle so I had a look on Amazon instead (I probably should have done that in the first place) and I got hold of a copy quite easily. So if you also have difficulty in sourcing a copy of the book, you might want to bear this in mind and try looking online.

Hill House, the reader is told, has a reputation for being haunted and when Dr. John Montague first hears about the house he is intrigued. Montague is a doctor of philosophy, but he has an active interest in the supernatural so he decides to rent Hill House and live there for three months, while he studies it. Montague engages two assistants to help him with his research: Eleanor and Theodora. A third assistant, Luke Sanderson, is forced upon the doctor by the house's present owner—Luke's aunt, who wants to keep him out of trouble for a while. Mrs Sanderson is quick to point out that Luke has received the best education; he has the best clothes, and the best taste, but the worst companions of anyone she has ever known. He is also a liar and a thief.

Theo has an outgoing and vibrant personality. She owns a shop and is good at sketching; she also seems to enjoy being the centre of attention. The thing about Theo that Montague finds most worthy of attention though, is the very high level of ESP she possesses. It is also hinted, early on in the story, that Theo is a lesbian. She does seem to get quite cosy with Luke later on in the book though, so I got the impression that she probably swings both ways.

Eleanor Vance is a slightly sad character and is a very different kettle of fish from Theo. Eleanor has spent most of her life looking after her ailing mother. When their mother died, Eleanor's sister, Carrie, insisted their mother's house be sold and the money be split between them. The sale of the house left Eleanor homeless, so she had to go and live with her sister and brother-in-law and their children. Eleanor and Carrie also bought a car together, but Eleanor is hardly ever allowed to use it, so she feels she has every right to use the car (for a change) and drive to Hill House. Unfortunately, Carrie refuses to part with "her car".  "It's half my car," Eleanor reminds her, and also points out that Carrie and her family are going away for the summer and won't need the car. Carrie is having none of it. Neither is her husband. Eleanor is not going to take Carrie's car and that is all that there is to it. Eleanor rebels. She sneaks away and takes the car that she co-owns with her sister. Good for her!

The situation with the car paints a picture of the way Nell's life has been: walked over and overruled. Eleanor's life has been sad and lonely (wasted?), and her opinion seems to be of little importance to her remaining family. If anything she is, perhaps, the convenience sister. In fact, with no real life of her own, Nell seems to rely heavily on a fantasy one to try and fill the hole inside her. When she arrives at Hill House it is probably the first time that she has ever felt accepted or wanted. Hill House also seems to take a special interest in her, which is frightening for Nell, and has devastating consequences.

The Haunting of Hill House is 246 pages long and was first published in 1959. Although it was written a relatively long time ago, the story doesn't have a particularly dated feel to it. The characters are lively and believable and it is all to easy to sympathise with the lead character, Nell. Some of the other characters are very likable, but a few of them are suitably obnoxious. Montague's wife, who whisks into the story in the later pages of the book, is in this latter category. She is an overbearing and annoying woman, and I couldn't help but wonder about the untold story: what was their life

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The Haunting of Hill House is quite a dark story (it is one scary old house!), but the prose has a light and airy feel to it that makes the book an easy and enjoyable read. It is one of the best haunted house stories I have ever read and is not only chilling, but a true classic that every fan of dark fiction should try and read at least once.


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