The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

February 23, 2013
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

With that charming introduction the mood is set for the novel, The Haunting of Hill House. I read most of the last half of The Haunting of Hill House in one sitting, late at night, which is when the haunting reaches its climax. Not a good idea. The Haunting of Hill House ranks as one of the scariest haunted house stories I’ve ever read.

The story starts with an invitation from paranormal researcher, Dr. Montague, to a list of people who have had prior experiences with the supernatural to spend a summer in the enigmatic Hill House, in hopes that their past dealings with the great beyond will help encourage some manifestations. Only three people take him up on his offer: the shy, timid Eleanor Vance, a lively, outgoing girl simply known as Theodora, and Luke Sanderson, the heir to the estate.

Like every good haunted house, Hill House has had a long history of accidental deaths, madness, and suicide. However, none of Hill House’s unfortunate former tenants ever seems to feel the urge to pop out of the walls and yell Boo! There are no whispers in the night that tell the house guests to get out. If anything Hill House seems intent on holding on to all who enters it.

Hill House was built with no right angles, so everything is slanted inward as if the house could fall down on itself, there are rooms enclosed within rooms, and the doors and windows have a habit of closing themselves. A veranda is wrapped tightly around the length of the house and the whole estate is surrounded by hills. The house provides a suffocating embrace the moment the characters pass through its threshold, and Eleanor even compares it to a large animal that swallows up smaller creatures. It’s an entity unto itself and it seeks to claim one of the characters for itself.

This is where the book realizes its most frightening aspects. Whatever walks through the halls of Hill House relies more on terror than horror to inspire fear. It bangs on the doors at night, writes on the walls, and laughs maniacally, all in an attempt to push the characters past their breaking points and to bring out the worst sides of them. The weirdness is never explained, it only escalates, and the characters struggle to find logic or reason behind the hauntings, but the house does not need to explain itself. It bides its time between each paranormal occurrence until one of the characters finally gives in. It’s both unsettling and entertaining to read, so go ahead and pick it up somewhere, just don’t read it at night…

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