Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House

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Photo by Edan Cohen on Unsplash

*The review below may contain spoilers*

I, like many others I know, have found myself hooked on the recently released Netflix show “The Haunting of Hill House.” As I am fascinated with all things paranormal, it was the down the rabbit hole I went after watching only one episode. I ended up watching all ten episodes in a matter of days, occasionally with every light turned on in my house.

My boyfriend noticed how much I enjoyed the show and bought me a copy of the book it was based on. He actually bought me a very lovely Library of America compilation, which also contains several of Shirley Jackson’s works including The Lottery, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and miscellaneous other short stories. I had previously read We Have Always Lived in the Castle and liked the tone, so I was excited to dive into another one of Jackson’s mysterious stories.

From the beginning, The Haunting of Hill House is very different from the Netflix version. There are few similarities in plot except the overarching theme of a creepy house taking over its inhabitants. The characters’ names overlap as well, but their relationships to one another and their personalities are completely different in the book than their onscreen representations.

Published in 1959, the book follows the character of Eleanor Vance, a thirty-two year old woman who from the start, raises a few eyebrows with the reader. As a child, she was involved in a bizarre event during which rocks fell from the sky onto her family’s house. Due to this prior involvement with the supernatural, she is contacted (in present day) by a paranormal investigator, Dr. Montague. He invites her to take part in a summer study involving supernatural activity at Hill House, a place Eleanor has never heard of. Against the wishes of her sister and brother-in-law, she takes the family car and sets out for the house. Upon her arrival, she meets two others invited by the same paranormal investigator: Theodora, a woman with a history of ESP abilities and Luke, the nephew of Hill House’s owner, and thus the man who will one day inherit the house.

The plot centers around Eleanor and the other three main characters’ experiences as they spend several days in the house. Loud banging on the walls at night, a phantom dog running through the hallways, and a ghost family’s picnic are all the sorts of odd things they encounter. Jackson does a superb job of interweaving the thoughts crossing Eleanor’s increasingly unstable mind with these supernatural events. Eleanor slowly begins to distrust the others around her, especially Theodora. As Eleanor’s thoughts turn more violent and nonsensical, the reader is left to wonder just how many of the strange events in the house are caused by the paranormal and how much of it is actually in Eleanor’s head.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in the paranormal or even just the psychology of the human mind. While it doesn’t follow the plot line of the Netflix version, it does capture the sense of dread Hill House gives off. By the end of it, I wasn’t quite sure what really had happened in Hill House, and I think that’s just what Jackson had in mind when she wrote the story.

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