Alone in the world, Eleanor is delighted to take up Dr Montague’s invitation to spend a summer in the mysterious Hill House. Joining them are Theodora, an artistic ‘sensitive’, and Luke, heir to the house. But what begins as a light-hearted experiment is swiftly proven to be a trip into their darkest nightmares, and an investigation that one of their number may not survive.
After reading Monster, She Wrote, I decided to make it my 2021 mission to read more horror novels by women writers. As Shirley Jackson was referenced a couple of times in the book, I decided to buy myself copies of The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I wasn’t 100% sure which to read first so I ran a poll on Instagram. The general consensus was that The Haunting of Hill House is the better of the two, so that’s where I decided to start.
Now, I don’t always get on too well with ‘classic’ literature. Very often I find the classics dry and long-winded and I was expecting to find Hill House much the same.
But I was wrong, very wrong.
The Haunting of Hill House is what I’d call a ‘cosy horror’, the kind of horror that’s perfect to read on a stormy evening, cup of tea/hot chocolate/alcoholic beverage to hand. It’s also spine-tinglingly eerie and unnerving as opposed to in-your-face scary and I think a lot of this is down to the fact that the scares are unseen, leaving the reader to fill in the gaps with their own imagination. There’s a passage in which Eleanor and Theo are being terrorised by something hammering on their bedroom door. The being’s banging on the upper corner of the door, higher than anyone in the house can actually reach, and Eleanor’s wondering if it moves “back and forth across the hall” and “on feet along the carpet”. Oh, and this entity also giggles too. Like Eleanor, readers are left wondering what exactly it is in the hallway. It’s either impossibly tall or floating and it giggles creepily, a combination that no one wants to encounter, let’s be honest. Shirley Jackson perhaps knew that the conjurings of a reader’s imagination would be far creepier than anything she could put on paper so maybe this is why none of the characters actually see the being said to haunt the mansion. She wanted the entity to be unique to the reader. That’s just my theory anyway. In my mind, this being is unnaturally tall and thin and its gaunt face breaks into an impossibly wide grin whenever it giggles.
I also really liked Eleanor as a character and because of this, I wasn’t too happy with how the book ended for her. Having cared for her sick mother for years and then lived with her overbearing sister and brother-in-law, a summer at Hill House seems like a fresh start for her. On her way there, she seems so full of hope and optimism and it was genuinely heart-breaking to see her crumble under the influence of Hill House. Despite the book being published in 1959 and deemed a classic, I didn’t actually know the ending until I read it, so I won’t reveal what becomes of Eleanor. I think it’s something readers should experience for themselves.
Overall, despite the ending, I thoroughly enjoyed The Haunting of Hill House and I can’t wait to try We Have Always Lived in the Castle as well.
What are some of your favourite women horror writers? Let me know in the comments below!