“It was a house without kindness, never meant to be lived in, not a fit place for people or for love or for hope. Exorcism cannot alter the countenance of a house ; Hill House would stay as it was until it was destroyed.”
― Shirley Jackson,
The Haunting Of Hill House is, in a word, haunting. It stays with you long after you finish reading. You think of it often throughout the day without knowing why. Everything you see somehow reminds you of Shirley Jackson’s masterpiece.
This is the sign of a truly well written horror story.
The novel begins slowly. For the modern age where we go into the horror genre expecting immediate scares and thrills, the beginning of this book might even be considered boring. There are no jump scares or gratuitous chills.
The horror builds slowly, so slowly you don’t realize it’s there until you put the book down and rethink what you just read. And continue to think about it until you must pick the book back up and find out what happens next.
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
― Shirley Jackson,
Hill House is introduced in the first chapter. That is the only sense of horror we get for a long time, as we are slowly introduced to the characters and their backstories. The opening paragraph that describes the house lingers in the back of your mind as a constant reminder of what is to come, and yet it is only about halfway through the novel that the real horrors begin. And when the horror hits, it hits hard. It delivers everything you think it will, in exactly the way you think it will unfold. This is truly the epitome of the perfect haunted house story.
Without giving away the ending, I will just say that it is haunting. Often the scariest things are the ones that are never explained, and that is exactly how Jackson chooses to end her story.
There is a loop to the beginning of the novel, as if to say the horror of Hill House will continue on indefinitely. But with little explanation, the horror of Hill House is something that you will mull over in your mind, trying to find an answer where none exists.
Eleanor’s last thought in The Haunting Of Hill House is haunting, and that is the truly terrifying thing about this novel.
Shirley Jackson’s novel has sparked endless inspirations, including Stephen King’s. His made for tv movie Rose Red (one of my favorite movies) draws heavily on The Haunting Of Hill House. While he does add in his own little twists, there is clearly some overlap. Most notably, the rain of stones and the monologue about some houses being born evil. The concept is awesome, and has much room to expand on the idea of haunted houses.
So far I’ve loved all interpretations of Jackson’s original idea. There have also been several movies made about Hill House, including the new Netflix series by the same name.
What I love so much about all of these retellings is that they don’t just tell the same story. Each of them adds its own unique tone and voice to the story, creating almost an entirely different story even though the characters and setting remains the same.
Have you read ? What were your thoughts? Did you like it? Did you hate it?
For similar posts, check out:
Stay tuned for my tips on how to write a horror novel. Coming April 2nd!