Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House, widely regarded as one of the finest scary stories ever written, is the story of Dr. John Montague, who brings together guests Theodora and Eleanor along with the home’s future owner Luke in the hopes that they can help him in his quest to find scientific evidence of the supernatural. Theodora and Eleanor are invited because they have experienced the paranormal before; of the many guests Dr. Montague invites, they alone accept. The guests quickly begin experiencing terrifying events, and Eleanor seems to be an especial target of the house. But is she becoming possessed by the house, or is she the cause of all the supernatural events herself?
I found this book a little difficult to get through because I didn’t really care for the characters. I think because Eleanor clearly has some psychological problems, and the third-person limited narration seemed to focus on her point of view, it could be difficult to tell what was really going on, and what Eleanor imagined. For instance, she has quite a few arguments with Theodora, and I’m still unsure all of them weren’t in her mind. She isn’t a very likable character—a sort of child. On the other hand, the writing is superb in some places, and Jackson has an excellent aptitude for evoking mood and describing setting. She is wonderful at characterization. Mrs. Montague and Arthur were hilarious. Even Eleanor is well-drawn in her way, but I’m wondering about Jackson’s attraction for grown women with child-like minds—We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which I never finished, has one, too. In the end of the book, it’s unclear exactly what happened, and the reader is left to interpret events. I will give this book a higher mark than I ordinarily give a book I kind of had to slog through simply because the writing was brilliant. I just really need a reason to care about the characters if I am going to enjoy a book, and I didn’t find one in this book.