When I was a pre-teen, I watched the reruns of the 1963 movie, The Haunting, based on this book. So scary and so compelling. I’m sure much of the nuance was over my head at that stage. At that time, my only knowledge of Shirley Jackson was as the author of Raising Demons. I had no idea who she really was until years later. October is the perfect time to visit the original Haunting of Hill House.
Dr. Montague, paranormal “scientist” tries to recruit people who have been known to have psychic experiences to come and stay at Hill House. Only two women follow through. The fourth member of the party is the nephew of the present owner, who will some day inherit Hill House. The house is known for psychic phenomena. The two women are very different. Theodora is young, confident, and carefree. Eleanor, the main character, has led a sheltered life caring for her elderly mother. Once her mother dies, she moves in with her overbearing sister. She goes to Hill House as a way to escape her life. The foursome experience some strange events while at the house. There are also the odd caretaker and cook/housekeeper, who always leave before dark. The three young people appear to have shifting alliances and shifting sexual tension. Partway into their stay, they are joined by Dr. Montague’s odd ball wife and her “companion,” the headmaster of a boy’s school. Strange events continue, culminating in a tragedy.
This book can be read on a few levels. You can enjoy it for the slow burn thriller that it is. There is no gore. The story is creepy rather than overtly scary. You can also read this as a psychological (more in the Freudian sense) thriller. Are there hints of lesbianism between the two female characters? Is there really a haunting or is everything happening in Eleanor’s damaged psyche? How much was Eleanor controlled by her mother and now her sister? I gave this four stars for a too slow build and too much ambiguity. However, I think that some readers will think these same qualities are what makes this a 5 star classic. Though I did not give this 5 stars, I remain a fan of Shirley Jackson (both her work and her personal life) and plan to do a deep dive into more of her other work.