Posted by: Sally Ingraham | September 18, 2010

R.I.P. V: The Haunting of Hill House

peril the firstby Shirley Jackson

It’s been a long time since a book pinned me to my bed and held me hostage for hours. The Haunting of Hill House did this – both in the sense that I couldn’t put it down and read late into the night, and in the sense that I was nearly paralyzed by the shivers running rampant up and down my spine. At one point, crunched under a blanket with the book nearly touching my nose, vaguely aware that CP was turning out lights and calling the cats inside for the night, so engrossed and possessed by Hill House was I that when CP spoke to me rather suddenly and rather loudly, I nearly came out of my skin. Breathless, helpless laughter followed.

It is said by most who have read her that Jackson is the queen of the slow build up, the repressed sense of unease that gradually grows into this all-enveloping THING. You don’t always know or fully understand what this THING is that spooks you, but it is so brilliantly realized that you believe in it entirely until by some miracle you reach the end of the book and are released.

hill houseThe Haunting of Hill House is about a house that may or may not be haunted, may or may not be in the possession of evil spirits, may or may not be in itself a being of evil. Dr. Montague and three assistants intend to spend several weeks living in Hill House, investigating its paranormal tendencies, aware that for the past 20 years or so no human habitants have managed to stay there for more than several days.

They quickly find out that something certainly is awry in Hill House. It’s a dark, dismal house with doors that continually close of their own accord, and lines and angles that are off just enough to cause optical illusions and mess with a person’s balance. And that’s not all, of course.

The personal baggage that Eleanor, Theodora, Luke, and Dr. Montague bring with them to the house, and the relationships that quickly form between them provide an intriguing counterpoint to the things that go bump in the night, at least for as long as the line between what’s real and what isn’t remains clear. Once that line gets blurred, the ride gets wild, and Hill House begins to dance.

Jackson’s genius lies in her ability to suggest – she never comes right out and says something. There is no definitive THIS is what HAPPENED. You’re left to imagine just as much as you would like, and that’s kind of the idea she explores in the book as well – how much haunting is done by one’s own mind? It’s not the ghosts who are dangerous – it’s the fear of the ghosts and what that fear causes a perfectly sane and reasonable person to do, that is dangerous.

So is Hill House haunted? I guess you’ll have to read the book to find out. I’ve been meaning to read more Jackson since being flabbergasted by We Have Always Lived in the Castle last December. The Haunting of Hill House was on my vaguely assembled R.I.P. V challenge list, but it was really the dare laid down by Jenn at Funny, that which gave me the extra push. Thanks Jenn! Well worth the shivers.

Although more often than not I entirely forgot about the beer I was drinking, so involved in the story was I, I did try more autumnal brews over the course of the read – the Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company (Chico, CA) was particularly good, and I’ve picked up a second sixer of that since. I also consumed several bottles of Gritty McDuff’s Halloween Ale (Portland, ME), and Shipyard Brewing Company’s Pumpkinhead (also Portland, ME). The Halloween Ale was another easily drinkable brew, and the Pumpkinhead is one of those tricky beers that has tons of spice and thus tons of yummy flavor…but no actual pumpkin in it! Still, it’s a pretty delicious beer and one that I revisit at least once a season.

I’ve got some Daphne du Maurier and Thomas Hardy picks in my R.I.P. future, as well as plenty more beers to try. I’m off to get a start on both. 🙂


  1. Although I once thought I wouldn’t care for her stuff, Sarah, I’m beginning to think I might have to give Shirl a whirl one of these days. Thanks for the tip and please keep those beer reviews coming!!!

    • Will do, Richard! And I will be very interested to see what you think of Jackson should you ever take a turn around the room with her.

  2. I just read this and I just didn’t feel the chills at all! I must not have been in the right frame of mind! Or maybe I needed some beer to go with it…

    • Interesting. I was all too willing to be chilled, so that probably added to my experience – and it also doesn’t take much to get my imagination fluttering wildly. Have you had the same experience with other books by Jackson?

      • This is the only Jackson I’ve read, but I think I might try We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Many readers have said they like that one better.

  3. Like the person above, I wasn’t sure if Jackson was for me but after reading all the posts about her books recently I ILL’d one of her books earlier today.

    • Sweet. Glad the intrigue finally won you over. Hope the book holds up to all the hype for you!

  4. Well, heck. Add another one to the TBR read pile! What a fantastic review! I’ve never felt the compulsion to read this book, but your post has definitely swayed me in the other direction. Off to the library’s website….now.

    • Gosh, thanks Jessica. Glad my nonsense gave you the push you needed. Again, I hope the book lives up to your expectations.

  5. Great, wonderful review of a really complex novel! I agree with you – this book is (or isn’t) about a haunting and is about a person who is (or isn’t?) slightly insane. The relationships between the characters themselves and the characters and the house are so constantly shifting, keeping the reader on shaky grounds in trying to discern what’s real and what’s fantasy. It’s so wonderfully vague and complex, and doesn’t willfully give away any of its secrets. Every time I read it I take something different from it.

    • Thanks Kate – I’m glad you feel the same way about it. I was so willing to get caught up in the story that I’ve started to feel worried that it wouldn’t hold up to a re-read. Thanks for trying the experiment! I feel sure now that Hill House still has more to reveal (or not…!)

      • I try to read it once a year – autumn, of course. It’s a minor obsession of mine. Enjoy!

  6. I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle last year and liked it but didn’t love it as so many other bloggers do. However, ’tis the season for spooky reads and I would like to try more Jackson, so this seems like a likely candidate!

    • I wouldn’t say that I ‘loved’ either of these books. I was caught up in the spell of Jackson’s worlds, but I didn’t really like being there and was grateful to escape! It’s awkward. They’re both excellent books, but uncomfortable ones.

  7. Oooooh, this sounds deliciously spooky! I was blown away by Jackson’s collection of shorts I read earlier this year (The Lottery and other stories), and am itching to start in on her longer fiction. Thanks for the nudge, Sarah!

    • Yay, hope you like it. I’m ready to move on to Jackson’s shorter fiction, but not for awhile. Her body of work is too small! I’ve got to relish it. 🙂

  8. I read Hill House years ago but really need to reread as I’m sure I’ll appreciate it more now.
    I thought Always Lived in the Castle was brilliant.

    • Brilliant is a good word for Jackson! I’m really curious to see what a reread of this book will be like. I’m going to give it a year or two. 🙂

  9. […] However, for the Peril on the Screen portion of R.I.P. V I decided to throw caution to the wind and watch…at least one scary movie. I ended up sort of watching three, although the 2009 version of Dorian Gray starring Ben Barnes and Colin Firth failed to either scare or thrill me, and Repo Men was just outright annoying. Which leaves me with my one scary movie – exactly the sort of mood based subconscious-screwing spook fest that really gets under my skin. It was the 1963 The Haunting, of course, which I had to watch as a follow-up to my reading of the book it’s based on. […]

  10. […] – Books: The Haunting of Hill House Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby […]

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