The reason I picked up this book because it was billed as a classic of the horror genre. I went in expecting a haunted house story, but ended up watching someone go slowly insane. Yes, I did get a little of the haunted house I was hoping for around the middle of the book. However, as the novel drew to an end, Jackson presented the supernatural elements in such a way that the reader can’t be sure that those elements actually were supernatural, but could have instead been committed by someone with blood still pumping through their veins.
Hill House would be fascinating to visit if it actually existed. It reminded me of the Winchester Mystery House, with odd angles and uncomfortable rooms and just an overall sense of wrongness that permeates every square inch. I find buildings with personalities of their own, be they friendly or malicious, incredibly interesting. Hill House, despite its creepiness, was my favorite “character” in the entire novel. Because the rest of them had issues.
Our main character, Eleanor, was one of the most unreliable narrators I’ve ever encountered. She seems so sweet at the beginning of the book, just a unfortunate woman who has never had the opportunity to build a life of her own. When she is invited to spend a summer at Hill House, she jumps at the chance to do something on her own, to hopefully find something for herself. Her journey to Hill House is sweet and whimsical and was a joy to read. But as she reaches Hill House and the other occupants, she slowly begins to change, though whether those changes come from within herself or from the outside force of the house is undetermined. I won’t go into any more details, but this is an engaging if ultimately unlikeable cast of characters, in an unusual and creepy setting.
Hill House itself was everything a haunted house should be. Littered with furniture that tries to spit you out as soon as you sit in it, a super creepy nursery with a cold spot guarding the door, slanted staircases, and doors and walls that are just the slightly bit wrong in their angles and placement, Hill House is just exactly the right amount of creepy. What bothered me was that Jackson found a way to kind of kill the magic, to make it seem like everything you thought was disturbing about the house was actually in your head. I actually don’t think this was intentional, but the addition an incredibly unreliable narrator cast incredulity over every description.
While it’s an interesting book, I didn’t love it. The writing was poetic, and the plot was interesting, but I never truly connected with Eleanor or the supporting cast. I wanted the story to be scarier than it was, and felt a little disappointed when those expectations weren’t met. This isn’t the book’s fault, but it hindered my enjoyment. If you’re looking for a classic, creepily atmospheric read that will stop short of actually scaring you, this is a short, fun read that won’t keep you up at night or haunt your dreams.