“Am I walking towards something I should be running away from?” says Eleanor Vance, protagonist of the novel “The Haunting of Hill House.” This quote truly embodies the way I felt picking up the book and attempting to read it. Initially, the title made me believe this novel was going to be like any other about haunted houses, but I was shocked to discover it was nothing like what I had planned for. “The Haunting of Hill House” was much more cruel than I could have ever anticipated.
I read this novel for the first time about a year ago; it immediately became one of my favorites. As an avid horror lover, “The Haunting of Hill House” exceeded all expectations I had for a haunted house based ghost story. As the Netflix adaptation of the Shirley Jackson novel has generated a lot of talk, I felt it important to emphasize the fact that the novel is just as terrifying and chilling as its television twin, but for much different reasons. Similar to the show, the protagonist of the novel is a young woman named Eleanor Vance. While the show focuses on a family living and experiencing the horrors of Hill House, the novel centers around a scientist named Dr. Montague attempting to provide scientific proof of the supernatural. His study takes place in none other than the infamous Hill House.
Dr. Montague begins this study by sending out a multitude of letters to those he thinks are susceptible to the supernatural. Although his letter count totals over a hundred, he only receives two responses: Eleanor and Theodora. In addition to the two girls, Dr. Montague’s study is overlooked by Luke Sanderson, heir of Hill House’s horrifying throne. The four spend an entire summer isolated inside of Hill House in an attempt to familiarize with the house and, hopefully, experience the supernatural effects the house is rumored to have.
At the novel’s start, the house does not appear to have any haunting aspects. The four subjects spend three uneventful nights in Hill House before the seeds of terror begin to plant and grow. Much like most horror fiction, the supernatural acts of the house start small and grow throughout, but the true terror of “The Haunting of Hill House” is the eerie effect the house has on the mental capabilities of those within it. Jackson toys with the mind of the reader throughout the entirety of the novel. We are often made to believe one thing while blatantly witnessing another. This lies within Jackson’s choices in terms of narration and storytelling point of view. As we only see the story from the eyes of Eleanor Vance, the reader is often fed biased thoughts and commentaries.
Due to the limited perspective, by the completion of the novel, one has more questions than they did upon opening the book. The final chapters of the book provide the reader with an ability to insert creative input of their own, filling in the gaps purposely left by Shirley Jackson. This story is great for any horror lover, as well as those who are interested in psychological thrillers. “The Haunting of Hill House” is an easy, fun-filled read. Personally, I am not often a fan of books that leave me with more questions than answers, but “The Haunting of Hill House” is a very prominent exception due to Shirley Jackson’s masterful incorporation of the mysteriousness. Although I would not necessarily say this novel is at its core a ghost story, I would call it a wonderfully crafted psychological thriller with powerful commentary on the abilities of the mind.