Spooktober | Reviewing a Horror Classic: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

It’s October! The month of junk food, horror movie marathons and crazy character costumes. For the next few weeks, I thought it might be fun to do posts centering around spooky, halloween-ish and horror related themes. So, to kick off ‘Spooktober’ I’m reviewing a horror classic, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, said to have inspired many of the haunted house stories we’re all familiar with today. What better way to get in the mood?

For a “haunted house” story, this was kind of a snoozefest. Probably because The Haunting of Hill House is more about the psychological than the supernatural.

Who, What, Where?

To give you a brief run down, the book is narrated by a woman named Eleanor who has been invited by an occult scholar named Dr Montague to assist in investigating potential supernatural occurrences at the foreboding Hill House. Joined by a quirky woman called Theodora and the house’s future inheritor, Luke, the quartet take up residency in the manor and soon begin to witness strange occurrences such as banging doors, writing on walls, and crying sounds in the late hours.

Tell Me When the Ghosts Show Up

Gosh, I was bored during large parts of this. For something so short, it has quite a few scenes seemingly devoid of plot or anything, really. Long car trip full of meandering prose. Snore. Characters take a lengthy and mainly uneventful tour through the house. Yawn. People drink brandy and play chess… Well, you get the point. Okay, it would be unfair not to say that there were a couple of times where things picked up and/or got a little creepy – Montague explaining the house’s history, Eleanor realising a hand she’d been holding didn’t belong to Theo, and a sequence involving something trying to force open Theo’s bedroom door. I also give Jackson credit for the book going out with a bang, because I certainly didn’t see that coming.

When Does the Sentence End?

One of the other major reasons Hill House and I didn’t mesh is the writing. There are just so many commas and semi-colons. Half the time I had trouble following passages because of how long the sentences were and the degree to which the ideas in them would jump around. Once larger sections of dialogue were introduced, this thankfully broke it up somewhat. On the dialogue itself, I go back and forth. One minute I’d be enjoying the fun banter between the characters, the next they’d be expressing feelings or comments completely out of nowhere that I wouldn’t understand at all.

Unlikeable Paranormal Investigators

The characters here missed the mark for me as well, mainly because they felt flat, unlikeable and failed to reach their suggested potential. Theo started out charming only to quickly become annoying and bitchy (plus her psychic abilities were basically a non-starter), Dr Montague was purely an information conduit, Luke was…I don’t even know how to explain Luke, and then there’s Eleanor. Our lead is an insecure, lonely woman who has never felt at home or loved and who is dealing with guilt and grief over the loss of the mother for whom she was a carer. As a result, we’re supposed to question whether what we’re reading is actually happening or merely a product of Eleanor’s increasingly fractured mental state. The only problem is, Eleanor’s character, backstory and journey to her eventual “snap” aren’t properly developed enough for it work effectively.

Who knows, maybe this is one of those books you need to pore over and discuss to truly appreciate its complexity and brilliance. Based off a quick skim of some analyses of it, I can see how this might be the case and I admit, I do appreciate its themes and ideas more than I did before.

However, in the end, it comes down to the fact that I came for an exciting haunted house story with interesting characters and left disappointed.  

2 Stars

4 thoughts on “Spooktober | Reviewing a Horror Classic: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

  1. Thank you for sharing your review Ashley – it’s a shame you didn’t enjoy this one but at least you got some October spooky vibes out of it! I loved We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson and found the characters so creepy. It sounds like there’s much less development in this one though so I’ll probably give it a miss 📚❤️ X x x

    1. Definitely a good read for the October spooky vibes! So you’re right, silver linings. 😊 I know a few people who really like We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It sounds kind of odd from the blurb but if I ever decide to give Shirley Jackson another go, it’ll probably be that one. Thanks Florence! 😊♥️

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