Haunting of Hill House book review

Eleanor Vance, a homebody who’s spent her whole life caring for her mother, has always yearned for something more. Due to an experience in her childhood, Eleanor is invited to spend time at Hill House by Dr. Montague, who is studying Hill House as part of an investigation into the existence of the supernatural. Also accompanying Dr. Montague is Luke Sanderson, the heir to the house, and Theodora, a woman with a private background who Eleanor grows to adore. As the story progresses, the threat the house poses to its guests is clear. An unexplainable phenomenon began to terrorize the characters who vowed to stay and investigate supernatural instances. There are things nobody can explain including eerie noises, clothing doused in blood, and writing on the walls addressed by name to Eleanor are just a few of Hill House’s cruel jokes it plays on its inhabitants. As the house toys with its occupants, it becomes increasingly clear to the reader that Eleanor is losing herself to Hill House. She experiences phenomena that the other inhabitants do not, implying that some of her experiences during her time in Hill House were all imaginary. Her mental state worsens when she begins to regard Hill House as her home which served as a benevolent presence in her life. This prompted her to be forcibly removed from Hill House after a near-death experience. However, as she is leaving, she experiences a mental break of sorts, thinking to herself “I won’t go… not if Hill House means me to stay.” On impulse, Eleanor takes off and drives her car into the tree resting on Hill House’s front lawn.

Jackson made two choices while writing this that particularly stood out to me – keeping the happenings of the house ambiguous and writing from Eleanor’s point of view. Although some scares are described, the reader never gets the vivid details behind the causes of the scares. There’s no scary ghost or monster for the audience to be afraid of, their fear instead comes from the unknown. Writing the book from Eleanor’s point of view amplifies this. Eleanor does not know what’s happening, and her mind’s fragility in Hill House not only affects her but also the audience. Because we are experiencing the story with no other information than what she gives, the reader is left with an understanding that the House is incredibly damaging without knowing the causes behind it. It stresses the principle of fearing the unknown – knowing you should be scared but not of what. It is what makes the novel so captivating.

The Haunting of Hill House has been praised by horror writer Stephen King and adapted into a Netflix series by award-winning director Mike Flanagan, showing exactly how famous the story has become over the years. I would recommend this to anyone with a vivid imagination and an appreciation for psychological horror.