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  • Writer's pictureP D Dawson

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (Book Review)

‘During the whole underside of her life, ever since her first memory, Eleanor had been waiting for something like Hill House’

I read Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle only a year ago, and the memory of it still burns vivid and bright. A testament for any good book is that it stays with you, and on the strength of that book I knew I would love her other work too. The Haunting of Hill House is similar to that great novel, in that it involves a house and uses it to study the characters in the story. But whereas the house in WHALITC was smaller and more lived in, Hill House is nothing of the kind. Instead it is big and unruly, to the point of causing its occupants to occasionally get lost.

Dr Montague is an occult scholar, who has been granted permission to lease Hill House and its estate for the purposes of studying its rumoured psychic disturbances. To help with that study he hires some assistants, the three that turn up being, Theodor, a girl of whom we are given little backstory, Eleanor, a slightly older girl with a dark past and through which Jackson channels most of the action and central viewpoint, and finally Luke, who is heir to the estate, and whose being there is a mandatory part of the doctor's temporary lease.

The characters in the novel are delightfully portrayed and given very different personalities, and Jackson’s prose brings the house to life with tentative suggestion and a building tension that never boils over to the ridiculous, but instead gently simmers and remains a constant threat, amid which all eventualities seem possible. I also found the characters to be extremely likeable, and felt from the beginning that I was in the house with them, anticipating every turn down dark corridors, or holding my breath as entities seemingly try and get into the rooms where the occupants, not quite sleeping, shudder with fear and anticipation for the spirit world the other side of the wood.

Later in the book a new character is introduced in the form of Mrs Montague, the doctor’s wife, and she doesn’t come alone. She turns up with her male friend, Arthur, who out in the real world is a head master. He is slightly rude in nature and irate, but he is nothing compared to Mrs Montague, who is very often tempered at the drop of a hat, and is at times so disagreeable to the others, that she is almost overdone by Jackson's writing, but not quite. What her character seems to do is reenergise the later part of the story, although if I’m honest I preferred the slow suspense that crept over the books first two thirds, and was ever so slightly annoyed by the introduction of these new characters. That being said, one cannot deny the added humour and light-heartedness these characters proffer.

Hill House is a wonderfully suspenseful book full of witty and wild characters that make you feel like you too have been invited to stay at Hill House to experience the excitement and danger of getting too close to its beating heart. A wonderfully immersive read that will suck you into its world and make you fall in love with the subtle power of Jackson's prose.

#BookReview #ShirleyJackson

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