Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House

If you know me, you know I love anything to do with horror. I watch scary movies, love to the-haunting-of-hill-houselisten to spooky tales. Unfortunately, I read horror fiction the least. My most favorite horror novel, The Exorcist, has set a high standard for scary fiction, and I’m always in the search for a book that will send a chill down my spine. If you search online for the best horror novels of the past century, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is sure to come up in one or more lists. That’s why I was happy to find her at the library and the book quickly wrapped me up in its odd, chilling atmosphere.

The story starts simply enough with Dr. Montague, a scholar interested in “the analysis of supernatural manifestations.” He finds Hill House, a strange, abandoned property, and three people to join him in living there. Two women – Eleanor and Theodora – have had brushes with the paranormal, and the third, Luke, is the heir to the house. The four meet at Hill House and  strange incidents ensue. That being said, The Haunting of Hill House is anything but expected. Jackson is a deft writer, and although for the majority of time the novel is only filled with four (or five) characters, she makes those characters immensely memorable. While Eleanor is always in focus, it is to Jackson’s credit, that Luke, Theodora (I love that name, by the way), and Dr. Montague are all etched with a distinctness. The foursome are completely aware of the unique nature of the house, and they face the horrors that accost them with humor and wit. Jackson balances out the creepy descriptions with wonderful repartee and often with beautiful, evocative ruminations of the mind.

I know horror fiction is not everyone’s cuppa tea; but if you want to slowly ease yourself into the genre then this is your book. I doubt it will scare your pants off (which is what I was hoping for), but it will play with your senses and make you think. It’s one of those that you’ll yearn to come back to, and even a slow reader like me finished it in three days. If you’ve read Jackson’s famous (notorious?) short story “The Lottery” before, then you’ll find the element of strangeness here too. But if you didn’t like the short story, don’t let that stop you from venturing into her longer fiction.

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