The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson: A Review

Date Finished: June 28th 2017

The heatwave has destroyed itself, faced with a cold front encroaching on the balmy summer days, the skyline over the UK has become a bruised, graying war zone marred by atomic bomb flashes and sky-cracking noise as the heat self-destructs, flaring out of existence in a cacophony of sound and light. Cold, stinging torrents of rain fall from the choked atmosphere, clattering gently over the rooftops to the music of the thunder-and-lightning dance above.

Perfect time to read a Shirley Jackson, dontcha think? I’ve been looking out for her novels for years, and this weekend found a pristine condition copy of The Haunting of Hill House in a charity shop.

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The novel, perhaps unsurprisingly, tells the tale of a haunted house. Eleanor, a lonely and sheltered young woman, takes up an invitation to spend the summer at Hill House at the request of Dr. Montague, an academic investigating the strange occurrences in this infamous house. Joining them are Theodora, a woman with ‘sensitivities’ to the unusual; and Luke, heir to the house. But what starts as a holiday in a curious mansion deteriorates into something rather more nightmarish, as the eccentricities of the abode become full-blown horrors.

 “Fear,” the doctor said, “is the relinquishment of logic, the willing relinquishing of reasonable patterns. We yield to it or we fight it, but we cannot meet it halfway.”

At just over the halfway mark I decided, no matter the outcome, The Haunting of Hill House was the most chilling book I had ever read. I’m hardly a horror connoisseur, but my other favourites: The Loney, and The Shining, could never send such a concerted chill up my spine. King’s classic contained one such scene that I felt in my bones, and Andrew Michael Hurley’s work commanded incredible suspense but was less intense when it came to the chills. Jackson, on the other hand, does chills perfectly, starting with the discovery of the house’s quirks in the daytime – for example, its disorienting layout – and suddenly leaping into its unseen night terrors.

But in its later third, the novel begins to become more confusing and transcends to become something else. It’s a clever conceit, but the latter chapters are likely to divide. Personally, it took me down a road I wasn’t expecting which ultimately diminished some of the horror element I had been enjoying. That’s not to say it was bad, just that it seemed to diverge from its main premise.

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

Nevertheless, Jackson has hooked me. Perhaps this wasn’t the story I had been hoping for, but it has proven that I’ve long been missing out on a capable horror writer with a naturally ability to tingle spines, as well as a compelling prose style that dances on the fine line between beauty and horror. I’ll be sure to return to Jackson, in the hopes of finding finer jewels hidden within her canon.

7/10

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