Brooke's Reviews > The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
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's review
Jun 12, 2007

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bookshelves: 2007, classics, horror
Recommended for: fans of psychological horror

I'm a huge fan of books where houses are one of the characters (see: House of Leaves, for example). I'd recently Tivoed The Haunting (the 1999 version) and was annoyed that while there were some good underlying ideas, the execution was cheesy and over-the-top. While browsing the horror aisle at a used bookstore, I saw Shirley Jackson's original novel, which is considered a classic ghost story, and decided to give it a try in hopes that it would retain the good parts of the movie and eliminate the Hollywood cheese.

In short, The Haunting of Hill House is about a scientist who invites people who had previously experienced paranormal events to stay in Hill House and help him scientifically prove that it is haunted. It was written back in 1959, so a lot of the dialogue and ideas seems outdated. I was able to overlook this most of the time, but sometimes I just had to raise an eyebrow and thank the heavens I didn't live in such a conservative time.

While the movie relies on in-your-face scares, such as phantoms floating down from the ceiling, the book goes in the opposite direction and keeps the horror mostly psychological. The supernatural events at times seem to be taking place solely in the main character, Eleanor's head; much of the book is ambiguous and leaves it up to the reader to determine whether the hauntings are real, or if Eleanor is going insane, and whether the house is the blame for her insanity, or if she's finally breaking down after an isolated life. The supernatural events are also only half described; a character sees something and screams for everyone to run, but the "something" is never described. In some ways it has a Jaws-like effect of heightening the terror, but on the other hand, left me desiring more.

The final plot twist in the 1999 movie version regarding why Eleanor was invited to Hill House was not included in the book, which disappointed me. I was looking forward to reading a better-executed version of the concept, but it definitely would have been at odds with the subtle and ambiguous style of the rest of the novel.

The Haunting of Hill House is a quick read for anyone looking for something creepy, but if you like a little bit more certainty to your novels, it might be a little too draw-your-own-conclusions for you. I'll probably reread it again in the future, now that all the expectations I had due to the movie have been stripped away. I expect I'll take something different from it now if I read it while trying to decide if Eleanor is insane or if the hauntings are real, instead of waiting for the scenes from the movie to occur.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 2007 – Finished Reading
June 12, 2007 – Shelved
December 4, 2007 – Shelved as: 2007
December 26, 2007 – Shelved as: classics
December 7, 2008 – Shelved as: horror

Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Paul Brooke -
For goodness sake, go rent the classic black-and-white version of The Haunting, directed in 1963 by Robert Wise... that 1999 version is AWFUL. The film, like the book, might seem a little antiquated in parts but it scares you in similar ways to the way the book scares you. Plus black-and-white always makes things look a little creepier!

Nimble Knitter I second Paul's recommendation. The 1963 movie is the most frightening film I've ever seen and yet you'll see no ghosts, no blood or guts, only well developed characters reacting to terrifying situations.

message 3: by Maggie (last edited Feb 24, 2010 10:14AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Maggie Nimble wrote: "I second Paul's recommendation. The 1963 movie is the most frightening film I've ever seen and yet you'll see no ghosts, no blood or guts, only well developed characters reacting to terrifying sit..."

I 'third' that opinion. I love horror films, the bloodier the better - there's none of that in this film everything is suggested - its brilliant and one of my favourite films ever! Just bought a copy from HMV - only £2.99.
Yep - the 1999 so-called re-make is rubbish!

Nikki You make me curious about why Eleanor was invited to Hill House in the movie! *goes to try and look it up*

Maggie In the original movie she was invited because of things that happened when she was a child, e.g. the stones falling on the house (as in the book) - can't remember why in the rem-make - just that it was an awful film!

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