Review: A Haunting on the Hill - Elizabeth Hand
Genre: Gothic horror
Published: Mulholland Books, October 3rd 2023
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars
“Do you know why certain houses make people feel uneasy?” Nisa rolled her eyes and cut in. “because they’re obviously haunted!” “No. It’s because we can’t tell whether they’re actually a threat. I heard it on a podcast. If you were to open the door to Hill House and see a dead body or a collapsed ceiling, you’d refuse to enter. But nothing here is obviously wrong. It’s just all slightly wrong. Which makes it harder to know for us if it’s safe.” Any modern author attempting a take on/tribute to a well-beloved classic is bound to kick up some dust, for better or worse. When I, a huge Shirley Jackson-fan, heard there was an officially licensed by the Jackson-trust-fund tribute novel to my all-time favourite classic Hill House on the way, I was equal parts excited and skeptical. Inviting any comparisons to a classic, for with my love has grown over years and multiple rereads, is a surefire way to set a book up for disappointment, so I tried to temper expectations. I’m so happy to say; this was a homage that does the original justice. Eerie, haunting, gothic, and enough of its own thing that it doesn’t completely sink away in the large tracks of its predecessor. Thematically and emotionally, it doesn’t have the same deep-rooted effect on me like The Haunting of Hill House had, but it still managed to bring out some of the same vibes and made for a completely immersive and unsettling read.
Years after the original events of Hill House, completely new cast of characters returns to the iconic mansion. This time, it’s not a scholarly interest in the paranormal that connects them, but a stage play about a witching trial they’re developing together. Playwright Holly Sherwin been a struggling for a breakthrough for years, but now, after receiving a grant to develop her play, The Witch of Edmonton, she may finally be close to her big break. All she needs is time and space to bring her vision to life. When she stumbles across Hill House on a weekend getaway upstate, she is immediately taken in by the ornate, if crumbling, gothic mansion. Joined by her girlfriend/leadsinger and composer Nisa, and a small cast of actors to play the leads, she takes up residence between the walls of Hill House. As tensions rise amongst these artists, getting immersed deeper and deeper into their roles, strange events unfold around the premises. As it turns out, Hill House reputation for madness and tragedy is more warranted than they anticipated…
As mentioned: I liked the choice of taking on different themes and a different flavour of madness, rather than rehashing the same ones the originally already did perfectly. Shirley Jacksons stay at Hill House was an introverted one, coloured by melancholy, obsession and isolation. Elizabeth Hand’s madness is more theatrical one, more extroverted and driven by ambition. It’s the mania to Jacksons depression, so to speak. That contrast sets it apart enough to stand on its own, whilst Hill House as the catalyst still justifies its connection. To me, this is the best way to do a tribute to a masterpiece: honoring its spirit, but respecting its territory. Elizabeth Hand feels to have recognized that the original didn’t need improving or adding to. The Haunting of Hill House is strong enough to walk the halls of its own universe alone. Yet for those who want to experience it, there’s now a new ghost to uncover in there too…
Note with regards to the formatting: I personally combined reading the physical copy with listening to the Hachette Audio and recommend both. The audiobook’s narration is superb and audio-effects and excellent voice work really bring the story to life.
You can find this book here on Goodreads.