The Haunting of Hill House

I finished The Haunting of Hill House today! Woot!

I read it because I was playing chess with my friend. He knew from our last chess-and-apple-cider/pumpkin-spice-chai meeting that I’d read The Shining. Apparently it’s one of his favorite books, so we got to discussing it. (God I love that book. So. Good. )

We got to talking about Shirley Jackson (yes, the woman who wrote The Lottery) and how does horror so well. My friend told me that she was a huge influence on Stephen King and that he has even said that Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is THE perfect horror story.*

I promised to read The Haunting of Hill House so we could discuss it. And I’m true to my word. Sometimes. In this case it’s mostly because I like horror stories.

I didn’t like The Haunting of Hill House as well as I liked The Shining. They are certainly similar, to be sure. Both involve a “haunted” building that eats at the consciousness of the people who stay there. Both have a certain aspect of insanity or internal instability (read: psychological thriller). Both include wonderful use of a PLACE as a character in a book.

I was going to continue to compare and contrast The Shining and The Haunting of Hill House, but I would wind up talking too much about The Shining, so I’m not going to do that.

The Haunting of Hill House is certainly frightening. Jackson’s writing is brilliant and she tackles her narrator’s consciousness so thoroughly that you can follow the descent into madness. As events start to unfold and mysterious things start to happen, the psychological unease grows.

Hill House itself serves as a character. It groans and breathes and sucks the inhabitants in. But perhaps the story’s true brilliance is its ambiguity. Jackson never says outright what is happening. Things get weirder and weirder and as a reader you become less sure of which events are really happening. A (semi) unreliable narrator contributes to this as well.

Overall, sanity has no place here. Neither in Hill House nor in the book. Like the house itself, which is uneven and disorienting, The Haunting of Hill House places readers in a strange place with little solid, expected ground. In this case, that is a good thing.

So, while I found The Shining more frightening (I just think that King is better at creating tension through pacing), readers who love horror should not pass up The Haunting of Hill House.

*After a cursory google search, I haven’t actually found any quotes of Stephen King saying this, but I do know that he cited Shirley Jackson as an inspiration and that some editions of The Shining, he quotes The Haunting of Hill House in the epigraph.

Rating: ****

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