Lauren Molyneux reviews a best seller from the past that has more recently been adapted for a Netflix series
The Haunting of Hill House
‘Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against the hills, holding darkness within… whatever walked there, walked alone.’ First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House was listed amongst the writer’s darkest works of fiction, which included her masterpiece, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and an original short story, ‘The Lottery’, published in The New Yorker in 1948, which horrified readers to such an extent that Jackson received hate mail. Whilst the novel is not revered as her best nor her most successful published work, The Haunting of Hill House found its resurgence into contemporary popular culture when it was adapted for a Netflix series in 2018.
Thirty-two-year-old Eleanor Vance is intrigued when she finds herself invited along to Hill House by the enigmatic Dr Montague, who, with a keen interest in the supernatural, is determined to discover the true nature of the activity reportedly taking place within the building’s walls. Lonely, living with her sister, and desperate to start living a life of her own, Eleanor graciously accepts the doctor’s invitation, excited to meet the rest of the team that has been gathered for the investigation. With a reputation which long precedes it, a dark history that’s whispered around the town, a mysterious couple that watches over its grounds, yet disappears at night, and a complex system of hallways, corridors and obscured rooms which regularly leads characters and readers alike to become lost, Hill House is set up with all the makings of a classic ghost story. But, as the narrative develops and we begin to learn more about each of the characters, the question becomes whether the house itself is indeed haunted, or whether the unnerving, overbearing presence experienced there has been brought into its halls by one of Dr Montague’s guests.
Exploring themes of fear, legend, and perception, Jackson writes beautifully, successfully delivering a wonderfully spooky tale, the pages of which naturally turn very quickly. With its delightful ambiguities, subtleties in description, light-hearted comedic uplift, and at times puzzling dialogue, The Haunting of Hill House is a ‘read it twice’ kind of novel, offering a tragic commentary on the impact of trauma and a dramatic ending that really packs a punch.