The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson is often considered to be one of the finest horror stories ever written. Published in 1959, it has left an indelible mark on the genre of horror.

The Hill House is famous for driving its inhabitants away. A house with a sordid past, no one who comes in touch with it is left untainted. Is Hill House haunted? Dr. John Montague intends to find out. But at what price?

The horror in the book is implicit which I enjoyed.

The eponymous Hill House itself is a major character of the book. I liked its atmosphere. It was eerie to say the least and so darkly Gothic,

“When they were silent for a moment the quiet weight of the house pressed down from all around them.”

I must confess that I had quite a hard time reviewing this book. I liked The Haunting of Hill House more than I thought I would. But I found it hard to put my feelings into words.

The central character of Eleanor Vance is the foremost reason behind my uncertainty. The fact that we are essentially seeing the world through her eyes left me feeling unsure about the events of the book. In other words, she is, in my opinion, an unreliable narrator. Are the events at the Hill House truly happening? How much of what happens is in Eleanor’s mind and how much of it is genuinely occurring?

I wasn’t even sure about the other people’s characters and reactions. How far can we trust her opinions? What if the things she sees and hears are all illusions?

The further the book progresses the more unhinged Eleanor becomes. She becomes even more unreliable as a narrator. In the end, I just had to give up trying to figure out what is real and what is unreal.

What I gathered was Eleanor was undeniably a troubled person,

“She could not remember ever being truly happy in her adult life; her years with her mother had been built up devotedly around small guilts and small reproaches, constant weariness, and unending despair. Without ever wanting to become reserved and shy, she had spent so long alone, with no one to love, that it was difficult for her to talk, even casually, to another person without self-consciousness and an awkward inability to find words.”

But there was also something inherently unstable, wrong and outright evil about Hill House.

“The house was vile. She shivered and thought, the words coming freely into her mind, Hill House is vile, it is diseased; get away from here at once.”

Eleanor was already on the edge. Hill House just cut off whatever little hold on reality she had left.

Overall, I enjoyed The Haunting of Hill House. I am just unsure about what I just read. Was it horror? It certainly was scary at times. Or did I just witness the gradual collapse of a disturbed mind? I am yet to be sure about that.

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