• The Bossy Bookworm

Review of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Jackson's gothic horror tale is made all the more frightening by its reliance on terror, shadows, and mystery. This was a wonderfully spooky read.

"Almost any house, caught unexpectedly or at an odd angle, can turn a deeply humorous look on a watching person; even a mischievous little chimney or a dormer like a dimple, can catch up a beholder with a sense of fellowship; but a house arrogant and hating, never off guard, can only be evil."

It's getting close to Halloween, so I thought I'd add a spooky story to my to-read list, and Shirley Jackson's 1959 classic The Haunting of Hill House totally fit the bill.

Four people arrive at Hill House in search of paranormal experiences: a scholar of the occult, Dr. Montague; an unorthodox woman with an open mind and brave disposition, Theodora; a young woman who has witnessed mysterious goings-on in the past, Eleanor; and the jocular, mischievous future heir of Hill House, Luke.

"...intelligence and understanding are really no protection at all," she thought.

The guests are greeted by the gruff, odd, reluctant caretakers of the house, Mr. and Mrs. Dudley, and they enter a house that simply feels unwelcome. Hill House is so confusingly laid out and off-kilter, the guests constantly feel emotionally and physically off-balance.

They're hoping to find answers--but unexplained occurrences and creepy moments are only the beginning of what Hill House has in store for them.

All four of the guests witness inexplicable phenomena, and odd events cause some of the guests to doubt their own senses of what is real, what might be imagined, and what seems unquestionably otherworldly.

Eleanor has a particular connection to the house, feeling its powers uniquely in some instances, and as the group wavers between silly teasing, joking, curiosity, and fear, Eleanor wavers between overwhelming joy and bitter suspicion and revenge fantasies.

It's not always clear if Eleanor has telekinetic abilities, if she is noticing events others aren't tuned into, if she's mentally ill, or if the ghostly voices are real and influencing her actions. Jackson's gothic horror tale is made all the more frightening by its reliance on terror, shadows, and mystery rather than gory elements. What the author leaves unsaid is as spooky as the story on the page.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

I haven't watched the ten-part Netflix series based on this tale--the cast looks great, but I'm not sure I can handle a version of this story in visual form.


Shirley Jackson wrote six novels, including We Have Always Lived in the Castle, two memoirs, and the story "The Lottery."