I love a good haunted house novel. Then again who doesn’t, right? Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House provides the usual staples expected in such works: the large isolated mansion house, one or several characters to investigate strange happenings, and several paranormal incidents to expose aforementioned characters to as the tale unfolds.
However, in a fashion not unlike that of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, there is an element of ambiguity that leaves the reader with an additional puzzle as to whether or not the house itself is haunted, or whether certain characters are themselves the ones who are alone in seeing ghosts, and not because they’re necessarily real.
A group gathers at Hill House, comprising Doctor Montague, a researcher into the paranormal, and two young women Eleanor and Theodora both who have prior experience of supernatural activity. Joining the party is a young man, Luke, who is heir to Hill House and thus permitted to tag along in the way that such landlords usually are.
It’s not long into their stay when all begin to experience strange events, including the spattering of blood on the walls, and some genuinely creepy atmosphere. However, Eleanor seems to experience certain things that the others do not, and at the same time the reader may begin to wonder just how reliable she is as a narrator in parts where she is charged with the device of storytelling.
I must be honest: I really do prefer of my haunted houses that when the door frame is shaking, and the door slamming violently in its frame, it’s because of some genuine, phantasmal force flexing its muscle.
Possibly some malevolent entity has escaped, and trapped between two dimensions struggles to be free to wreak terror on an expectant but nonetheless terrified party of psychic investigators. Or possibly it’s because no planning permission was gotten from the local council when the mansion was built on Indian burial ground.
However, in certain circumstances, when the wording is as right and the telling of tales as fine as it is done in this novel, I am open to the more vague possibilities, and uncertainties in regards resolution of ghost-related plot-lines.
The Haunting of Hill House contains the usual fare of the haunted house novel, whilst injecting elements of the uncertain (most especially via the character of Eleanor) for the reader to make their own case with when they’ve finished the novel.
Our stay in Hill House as a visitor and reader is charged and eventful, and however one interprets the novel, the ending is satisfactory and provides completion. I do wonder if the Haunting of Hill House was written to try to appeal to non-traditional readers of horror, and wonder also if doing so Jackson put stabilisers on the plot that the tale might be better enjoyed by all. Nonetheless, this book is a must read, very spooky, and with a definitive and chilling set piece in Hill House.