When you’re on Amazon, or Goodreads, or iTunes do you tend to explore the “if you liked x, you might like y” suggestions? It was because of this feature that I came across the audiobook of Shirley Jackson’s horror story The Haunting of Hill House. Of course, I’d heard of it before and it had always been one of those classic stories that I’d been meaning to get around to. Well, okay iTunes – thanks for the prompt. I’ll try it.
The Haunting of Hill House is widely considered one of the great horror novels of the 20th century. In it, lonely single Eleanor Vance is recruited by a parapsychologist to join a few others in investigating the goings-on at a fabled haunted mansion, Hill House. The team – the invesitigator Doctor Montague, another “sensitive” Theodora, and a member of the house’s owning family agree to stay in the house and make observations in the hopes of documenting paranormal activity.
As horror stories go, the events that take place in Hill House are more about psychological terror than what I think most people would consider horror – and by today’s standards, it’d downright tame. But that’s not really where Jackson’s novel comes up short for me.
Now, some books are classics because they’re excellent and some books are classic because they break new ground – and just maybe, they don’t hold up too well over time. To me, Hill House is that latter sort of classic. The story is mostly related through Eleanor’s eyes and she is hardly the picture of a modern (the story was published in 1959) female protagonist. Eleanor is a timid mouse of a women – who doesn’t need a haunted house to be a nervous Nellie – she’s practically afraid of her own shadow. Theodora is supposed to be the more “modern” woman, but her brazenness is a show and she’s really just a tender flower, too. The male characters were fairly two dimensional.
In the end, this is a pretty decent ghost story that gets kudos for breaking some ground back in the day. I really wanted to like it, because I love haunted house stories. Sadly, it just couldn’t get past the handicap of its stilted dialog and characters.
2 stars out of 5