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Review: The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson

Genre: Classic horror Published: Penguin Classics, 2013 originally published: 1959 My Rating: 4/5 stars

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.”

The Haunting of Hill House is a great example of what I love in classic horror. It’s subtle, atmospheric and more unsettling in a psychological sense than a supernatural one.

The story opens with dr. Montague, a scholar interested in the truth behind the paranormal activities that have been reported in a remote house. In order to facilitate his research of the place, he invites three strangers to stay with him at Hill House over the summer: spontaneous and lighthearted Theodora, young heir to the house Luke and protagonist Eleanor, a woman with a haunted past and previous experience with poltergeist activity. Hill House is bathed in a mysterious and unfriendly atmosphere. Architecture that doesn’t seem to make sense, strange noises at night and a neurotic housekeeper who refuses to sway from her patterns or stay in the house past dusk…

None of this however, is the source of the real horror in Hill House. The real secrets and the real fears might not be hidden in the dark rooms and labyrinthian corridors of Hill House, but in the corners of the mind of its inhabitants. As mentioned, Eleanor is a troubled and mentally fragile woman, haunted by the drawn out death of her mother and the subsequent impact that had on her life. She is also an unreliable narrator which forms the bases of much of the sense of insecurity in the novel. It’s the ghosts of her past, her character and the unfurling dynamics with the other characters (in particular with Theodora) that bring the story to life and really kept me at the edge of my seat. Jacksons writing style is perfectly suited to bringing across the isolated and unsettling atmosphere of Hill House, but also adds some much needed sass and subtly dry humor into the mix. The entire experience was perfectly brought to life in the audiobook narrated by David Warner.

The only critique I have as far as the writing’s concerned is the repetitious nature of some of the chapters, as well as many sentences, which was at times a little too much for me. You could also argue that the beginning is fairly slow; although the atmosphere had me captivated from the start, it took until about the halfway mark for the story to do the same. On the other hand, this slow and atmospheric build up is something I’m used to in many classics, and it didn’t stop me from immersing myself in the story, like sinking in a warm bath of words.

The Haunting of Hill House may be a slow burn, but it’s a staple in classic horror for good reasons. I can wholeheartedly recommend it, especially in audiobook form.

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