Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Right now, The Haunting of Hill House is everywhere thanks to the Netflix mini series. My sister and I do a buddy read for October/Halloween every year and each of us pick a book to read for the month and then we read it together. My pick was Frankenstein and The Haunting of Hill House was her pick.

I wasn’t terribly excited about this book, but I’ve been looking for something similar to Crimson Peak (the movie) and this one sounded like it would be in the same vein—-though a more modern setting.

I also picked up the Penguin Horror edition with an intro by Guillermo del Toro and I was incredibly impressed with his artistic insight into the Gothic and horror genre. I normally skip over the intros by people when reading classics etc, but Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorite directors and I was eager to see what he thought. Plus I LOVE Gothic horror—–more emphasis on Gothic than the horror—-and I was excited to see what his observations were for this book.

The classic supernatural thriller by an author who helped define the genre. First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror.

It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting;’ Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House.

At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own (summary from Goodreads).

The characters in this book were quirky and clearly the time period factored into their general mannerisms and traits. Eleanor is very fragile and unsure of herself. She’s been very sheltered and comes across exceptionally timid. It was hard to relate to her as basically the main character or narrator. The other option was Theodora ‘Theo’…..she seemed too spacey and self serving for me to remotely like.

The male characters didn’t seem to be as focused on as the two women which was interesting especially considering the time period. Luke seemed like this weird good old boy and I was surprised that he didn’t actually know more about the house and the Doctor, he seemed like just the catalyst for the story.

But let’s get to the real main character in this book—–the house. The whole story centers around this house and it’s evil reputation. I found Hill House to be equal parts f-ing scary and interesting. I love the whole idea of a haunted house or a house made evil by the residents deeds and that’s just what we get in this book. But what made this book more spooky for me was how each characters responds to the eerie events.

Each event could be dismissed with logic, but yet not everything. And the reader starts to get just as unsettled as the characters, the more it goes on. I liked that aspect. While this book wasn’t as terrifying as I had expected, it was still an interesting and psychological read. And ghost stories are always creepy and fun (for me anyway), so I rather enjoyed this classic story that was so influential on other horror writers.

With horror, I’ve often noticed (the little that I have read) that the emphasis is mostly on creating fear for the reader, rather than developing the characters or plot. This book does a great job at trying to merge scare tactics with an interesting plot and characters. While this wasn’t a 5 star book for me, I was glad that I read it and had the experience of the book prior to watching the Netflix show.

I will include briefly my thoughts on the Netflix show here in this review. First of all, I hate scary movies. Films like The Ring, kept me up and scared the pants off me. I would never willingly pick up The Ring to watch it again because even though it was good, I was terrified.

My husband was shocked when I said I wanted to watch this show. We watched one episode—which was much different from the book I might add—and in that one episode I was so freaked out. But it was so interesting and well done that I actually wanted to watch another episode—-alone if needs be. I have only watched the one episode but I plan on binging it this weekend because it is a strong adaptation. I loved seeing how the writers took Shirley Jackson’s book and characters and put a more modern and in-depth twist on them,

If you haven’t watched the Netflix show you need to…..it will scare the pants off you!

So the book was a 3 star for me and the Netflix series would have been a 5 star. Sometimes reading can’t touch the impact of visual scare tactics and in this case, the series was terrifying where as the book was more creepy and spooky but I could still sleep……the series—-sleep was elusive but I will gladly watch the entire series.

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

  • Hardcover, Penguin Horror, 235 pages
    Published October 3rd 2013 by Penguin Classics (first published 1959)
    ISBN 0143122355 (ISBN13: 9780143122357)
  • Review copy provided by: personal collection, all opinions are my own
  • Recommendation: 3 out of 5
  • Genre: classic, supernatural, paranormal, horror, gothic
  • Memorable lines/quotes: 
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2 thoughts on “Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

  1. Great review! I’ve been told by a few of my peers that I should watch the Netflix show, but I had no idea it was actually a book! Did you find it very disappointing that the show didn’t follow the book? Or were you just more pleased that the show was very scary? But I always found that if an author can manage to scare you from just their words, as opposed to a TV program where it’s far more visual, then the story is a piece of art. It’s much harder to scare with just words without the added bonus of jump scares and visual gore. But again, great review, I just gave you a follow, can’t wait to see more!

    1. I actually liked the Netflix series better personally. The book had a lot of nuances and such, but the creepy feel of the house really came alive for me visually with the series. The book was clearly a classic but for me felt a little dated. At first I was disappointed that the series didn’t follow the book but I loved that the book made the characters come alive in different ways than the book did.

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