Sunday 23 October 2011

The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson

Dr Montague sees himself as an expert on psychic activity. He stumbles over Hill House and decides it's the perfect place to study this phenomenon. A reportedly haunted house that no one will talk about openly. So he invites some people along who are know to have shown some psychic ability. Eleanor decides to go now that she is all alone in the world. She has nothing else to lose and maybe it will give her the sense of belonging she craves. The beautiful Theodora also accepts and Luke, heir to the house, tags along. The house immediately makes itself felt and the group are aware that it won't be long before something happens. They are unsure as to what that will be but don't believe it will put them in any physical danger until it's too late.

My first knowledge of this book was actually the 1999 film "The Haunting" starring Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Luke Wilson. It's a film my mum would watch relentlessly. A film I hated as it just wasn't very good. When I asked for some Halloween book recommendations my friend urged me to read this one. I picked it up although I had my doubts when I discovered the book was based on it. I know I always share why I decide to read a book and it's usually not relevant. In this case it is though as I had to push my memories of the film out of my head in order to read the book. Or at the very least try not to let my dislike of it prejudice my view of the book.

The book actually has a very different tone. It's set in the late 50's and the characters in the book actually had a very different feel to those in the film for that reason alone. We immediately feel for Eleanor who has spent most of her life caring for her mother. She takes this offer to Hill House as a way to get out the house of her selfish sister and her husband. For her sake I wanted her to keep driving round America rather than to end the journey she was enjoying so much at Hill House. I was so relieved for her when she quickly fit in to the group and found a niche for herself. A relief that the character felt herself. As the book continues though that niche isn't as secure as it first seemed. Either by Eleanor's doing or by the people around her. Maybe as her neediness showed the other characters were put off by it and in the end pitied her.

What I really think though is that it's the house. We know as soon as Eleanor arrives at the village that there is something wrong with house. The people are strange and uncommunicative. Then the people caring for the house are exactly the same. Possibly the house has seeped into all of these people. Eleanor herself is afraid as soon as she arrives at the house. As the book continues the house is found to be creepier. Doors that won't stay open, noises in the night and an unexplained cold spot not to mention the dark decor and forbidding decor. The blurb of the book says that the house wanted to claim one of it's guests as their own. I think it seeped into the guests and deliberately gave Eleanor that feeling of being an outcast again. Through out the book she continually reached out to people only to be shrugged off.

The book didn't seem particularly scary or creepy at first. There were a few dark moments such as Eleanor's arrival at the house but the mood of the book was quickly brightened again with the arrival of more people. This just added to the build up because I hit the half way mark and I was extremely glad that I was reading it during the day. In fact I managed to finish it during the day too so no sleepless nights for me (fingers crossed).

A fantastic book which I am glad I read. It goes back to that view of the film never matching up to the book. In this case I am thankful of it.


  1. Good review! I just read this recently and my review was similar ... not very scary except for the odd time. I read that the 1950-something movie matches the book quite well, but the most recent remake doesn't. Not my favourite Halloween book, but it was an okay read!

  2. Thank you, I might have to look out the 1950 movie. The 1999 one was awful. Yeah, not my favourite as a Halloween read but I still liked it.

  3. I have to watch horror films during the day because I live by myself! It's hard to find truly scary horror books though, maybe I should try this for Halloween.

  4. I love this book and think it highlights psychological suspense and Elenor's descent into madness more than just scares.

    The 1963 movie, which was the original is way better than the remake. The remake is so bad, it's not worth watching.

  5. Ellie, I can't watch horror films at all generally. I am such a big wimp. The version of this film that I have seen even I wouldn't class as scary. Just awful.

    Ryan, a lot of people have been recommending the 1963 film. Sadly I have seen the rubbish one and it is burned on my retinas forever.

    I agree, that very first moment of Eleanor feeling as though she was outside the group was very well done. I wanted to hate Theodora too even though she hadn't done anything to deserve it. Mind you, thinking about it, was it really Hill House or was it Eleanor alone. We are seeing everything from her mind so how do we know that what she was seeing was real. She was already behaving out of character by stealing the car and turning up in the first place.