Book Review: “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson

First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror.

 It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

True story: I started watching Netflix’s version of “The Haunting of Hill House” SURE I had already read the original.

I quickly realized it was nothing like the original, and when I sat down to write my review, I thought I’d do some quick research to reacquaint myself with the original story.

Well, you can imagine how surprised I was when I read the plot synopsis and thought, “That’s not what I remember at all.”

It turns out I had confused “The Haunting of Hill House” with “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James.

(All my fellow bookaholics out there, you know what I’m talking about.)

Anyway, I decided since I hadn’t read Shirley Jackson’s original, maybe it was time I did.

So, let’s talk about the book (which is nothing like the Netflix version of the story).

What struck me was how much of a psychological thriller it was.

It wasn’t gory, or what you might expect of a typical “horror” story. Instead, it was all very creepy and unexplained. For instance, near the beginning, the doctor comes back into the room and refuses to talk about something that had just happened to him.

We never find out precisely what happened that was.

Throw in a mentally unstable woman as a main character, and you really don’t know what’s going on.

It’s a pretty fast read—I don’t think it’s very long (I read it on Kindle). But it WAS written in the fifties, and there is an old-fashioned quality in the writing.

The origins of the modern day psychological thriller can be traced back to Shirley Jackson. Read my full review of the The Haunting of Hill House. Click To Tweet

If you like this book, you may want to check out “The Lottery,” too—a short story also written by Shirley Jackson. She really excels at the unsettling; Clearly, the origins of the modern-day psychological thriller can be traced back to Jackson.

I would give “The Haunting of Hill House” four stars. Here’s the link where you can grab it on Amazon:


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1 thought on “Book Review: “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson”

  1. I read this book when it first came out in paperback (way back when I was about 14 years old and a paperback sold for about a quarter) and it scared the bejesus out of me. It is widely considered to be one of the finest ghost stories ever written and I have it’s one of the scarest book I’ve ever read. It’s creepy in a way that makes you want to look behind you but at the same time you don’t want you, because, as Sachel Paige once said, “…something might be gaining on you.

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