Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Hi everyone, I hope you’re all well! Today is Friday, and that means another review. Today, I am reviewing The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

The haunting of Hill House was first published in 1959 by The Viking Press and runs 256 pages.

The Haunting of Hill House tells the story of a group of people, a scientist and three others, whom he invites to help investigate the supposed paranormal activity at Hill House.

Eleanor Vance
Eleanor is a shy, withdrawn woman who has spent most of her life caring for her invalid mother. When her mother dies, having lived as a recluse and feeling that she has never been happy in her adult life, Eleanor takes up Doctor Montague on his invitation to hill house. He invites her because he believes her to have experienced some poltergeist phenomena when she was younger and thinks she will be able to assist him in his investigation.
Eleanor has quite the imagination, using places along the journey to Hill House to build fantasies about a life she could have lived. However, slowly throughout the book, she finds it hard to distinguish between fantasy and reality.
I really felt for Eleanor. She has no self-confidence, and her self-esteem is so low that she chastises herself for saying things that she thinks others might find childish or stupid.

Theodora ‘Theo’
Theo is a free-spirited artist who is outgoing and friendly. She is the second to arrive at the house and quickly befriends Eleanor, though their personalities are very different. Whereas Eleanor questions herself continuously, Theo is bold and confident.
Also, I think she is implied to be a lesbian or, at least, bisexual. It is hinted at through her flirting with Eleanor and when referring to her ‘roommate’ – a term that would have been widely used to mean ‘partner’ in the 50s and 60s.
Theo is my favourite character in the book. She is sarcastic and funny, and I feel like I know genuine people who are just like her.

Luke Sanderson
Luke is the heir to Hill House and joins Doctor Montague as a representative for the family who owns it.
He confides to Eleanor at one point that he has never had a mother and wants someone who will teach him to be a grown-up. He admits he is selfish, although, throughout the book, you see him behaving otherwise. Like Theo, he relies on humour to lighten the mood whenever he can.
I was unable to connect with luke on any level. His role in the novel is not as significant as the others, and I feel that if he were taken out of it, he wouldn’t be missed.

Doctor John Montague
Montague is a doctor of anthropology but has a strong interest in the paranormal. Having rented Hill House for the summer, he invites three guests to help him investigate it to find out if it is haunted.
He is a very detail-oriented man, taking copious notes, hoping to show them to his colleagues whom he feels would laugh if they knew where he was, proving to them that haunted houses are real.
Montague becomes a fatherly figure to the others, sometimes sitting with his work while they goof around.
He likes to talk to them about the history and the construction of Hill House and shares various bits and pieces of knowledge about paranormal activity.
Montague is one of the book’s only well-written characters. He is supposed to be a scientist in charge of an experiment, and that’s precisely how he is written. He speaks and behaves exactly as a scientist would. He is an entirely believable character and, along with Theodora, stands out above the others in terms of realness.

Writing style
The idea of this book was very appealing to me. I love ghost stories, and I adore stories about haunted houses. However, I could not get myself wrapped up in this story world. The detailed descriptions (something I usually can’t abide) are very well written, nonetheless the plot just didn’t work for me, and I can’t decide if that was because not enough ‘haunted house’ type stuff happened or enough spooky stuff happened, but it just wasn’t spooky enough.
The part of the book I enjoyed most was close to the beginning, where Eleanor commences her journey to Hill House. I loved the make-believe life she invents for herself as she drives to the town of Hillsdale. After that, though, that particular character began to grate on me.

Final Thoughts
I wanted to love this book so much. The premise was just my sort of thing. I like to read a creepy story in bed at night and frighten myself silly to the point where I’m not sure whether the shadows in the open bedroom door have gotten darker… but alas, it was not to be. I did make sure I read the book to the end; I like to ensure I have given the book a full and fair chance, but on this occasion, I was a little disappointed. At the end of the book, there were unanswered questions, like, did Eleanor cause the poltergeist activity? Or did Hill House choose Eleanor, targeting her over the others for some reason? These are answers I’ll never know. Unless they are addressed in the movie (I’ve not seen it yet – it only came out 60 years ago, after all).

The book was a little tame in terms of horror and ghostly goings-on. But then again, some people enjoy tame. Many people can’t handle a lot of intense horror and suspense, so if that’s you, if you like ghost stories but not getting too much of a fright, then you might just enjoy this book as much as I would have liked to.

I am giving The Haunting of Hill House a 4/10.

Have you read the Haunting of Hill House or seen either of the movies or TV adaptations? What did you think?

As always, thanks for reading my review. I really do appreciate it.

Until next time,


© 2023 GLT

Categories: Book Reviews, Reading

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