The Haunting of Hill House conjures up scares, laughs and grave themes resulting in a masterpiece of literary horror.
The Haunting of Hill House is a supernatural psychological gothic haunted house story that contains several themes. The underlying themes dig deep into the human psyche and delineate a rather negative image of mankind.
With a surrealistic style she transports the readers into a different world, the inner world of the protagonist. This world is described and interpreted by an unreliable character that has a specific point of view. In this way the writing style adds to the psychological and elusive horror.
The Haunting of Hill House is therefore as much a haunted house story as a story about personal fears and hopes and reaches for the boundaries what is still real and what might be the beginning of a tragic insanity.
Dr. Montague is interested in the paranormal and rents a house, Hill House where allegedly paranormal activities have occurred. To help him he writes several letters to different people who have experienced the paranormal, but only two respond. Theodora (Theo) and Eleanor (Nell). Together with Dr. Montague and Luke the nephew of the owner of Hill House, who acts as their host, they are spending a week in the house to catch some paranormal phenomena. When some strange things do occur, it seems to be aimed at Eleanor.
Why you should read it
The Haunting of Hill House is a joy to read. It has a very natural writing style that combines an atmosphere of horror, a foreboding sense, psychological themes, but is also written with a witty smart humorous style.
Eleanor, Nell, is the main character and we follow mainly her thoughts about everything that is happening. Not only the strange and scary occurrences but also the group dynamics. Nell is a very tragic figure, blessed and cursed with a paranormal gift, she’s highly sensitive to paranormal events, can even cause them, but she is also highly sensitive to the behavior of other people.
Desperately trying to belong, she focuses on Theo whom she admires because she’s so liberated and whom she sees as a cousin, while she also tries to get the approval of Dr. Montague a father figure and of Luke who acts like a brother while she fancies him. Although everything starts out very friendly and exciting, things are spiraling out of control, due to the creepy occurrences but also Nell’s expectations that aren’t met. Nell becomes more and more paranoid and her hopes of finding new friends and starting over a new life are fleeting away.
The character of Nell symbolizes the themes of loneliness, desperately trying to belong, te be loved and liked. Nell has always cared for her sick mother who now has died, and therefore has never led her own life, and this is a new opportunity to change all of that. But because of her fears to be alone, she forces herself on the others, who quickly are feeling suffocated by her and this causes friction. While Nell has never had the chance to develop her own individuality she doesn’t recognize the signs and that makes her all the more tragic. All the more when Theo is acting like a cruel woman, Luke is a bully and Dr. Montague feels sorry for her.
This feelings of fear and loneliness, combined with the creepy hauntings fill the pages with terror and dread that seem inevitable. Nell herself feels disoriented in her own life, but the doors and the house itself are build askew and are cause for an even more physical feeling of disorientation.
The horror is subtle and sporadical, but very effective. It is creepy and scary and never fully explained what is happening and why. They even think at one point that Nell is causing all of it.
To contrast the grave themes and the horror, the writing style is also very playful and some characters are added to even bring in some comic relief. The caretakers of the house, Mrs. Dudley and Mr. Dudley are absurdly funny, while they only speak the same sentences over and over again, being very compulsive. But when Dr. Montague’s wife arrives at the house with her companion Arthur then it really becomes absurdly funny. Mrs. Montague thinks she’s a vey gifted medium and even brought her planchette with her to communicate with spirits. She’s portrayed as an arrogant person and ironically she’s the only one who doesn’t experience any of the paranormal events.
My favorite part
The description of Nell is excellently done. She really comes to life as a likable, but tragic and also a wearing person. Due to the lack of love in her life, she clings to every bit she thinks is given to her. She is looking for affirmation and recognition, and she thinks she will find it in the world. But the world is as harsh as was her own family. The same indifference, arrogance and egotistical behavior she finds in the world she thought would liberate her. That is a devastating and depressive thought and it makes her more vulnerable to the house and to the whims of others. This is the real horror, the sudden realization that the world isn’t always a fine place to be, with wonderful people, and that makes it all the more difficult for vulnerable people to fit in or to feel loved.
Luckily there is much to chuckle over in this book, mainly caused by Mrs. Montague and Arthur who represent the thickness and arrogance of people. They really sparkle up some fun situations and they are a welcome contrast.
That’s what makes this book so enthralling and engaging; it’s scary, it’s smart and witty, it’s psychological and all of this is woven together into a great read. It has some difficult themes without being too explicitly trying or pretentious, but reads pleasantly unfolding the story. It will therefore speak to a wide audience and actually it is a classic must read for everybody who loves books.
A favorite quote
“Journeys end in lovers meeting…”
Scare factor: ★★★★☆
Drama factor: ★★★★★
Originality factor: ★★★★★
Entertainment factor: ★★★★★
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The Haunting of Hill House is written by Shirley Jackson and first published in 1959. It has been reprinted many times. It consists of 246 pages, depending on edition.