Top positive review
Classic psychological horror
Reviewed in the United States on June 5, 2018
For reasons which pass understanding, I had never read this book before now. This, in spite of having been a huge fan of the film (the 1963 version, not the awful 90s remake) since I was eleven years old. How is that even possible? I guess it just felt as if I had, since I was so familiar with the movie. And yes, I know it's not the same thing, but it's a hella fine film and, as I discovered as I finally read the book, it is surprisingly true to the original text.
Yes, of course there are differences, but predictable ones like cutting for length. After all, films are able to tell us more in less time than a book can. The characters are fairly consistent with the novel save for the doctor's wife who is, if anything, worse than her film version. The relationships are not precisely the same, but the spirit of those relationships and what they mean to the characters are true to those in the book.
What was different for me was that the book made me more uneasy about Eleanor, and about how much of the book's horror is in her mind, or can be attributed to her poltergeist. If you've read Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, you'll be familiar with the disorientation of not ever really knowing what's going on, whether it's supernatural, a mental aberration, or a combination of the two. And that, more than anything makes The Haunting of Hill House one of the most unsettling things I've ever read.
It's gloriously well written; it gave me the wiggins in the first ten pages, and never really let up. But it's not throat-clutching horror, or jump-out-of-your-skin horror. Rather, it's a slow and even sad progress of the death of hope in the face of something overwhelming. The horror is that no matter the source, nothing can stop it.
I'm not a fan of gorpy horror, buckets of blood and body parts being flung about. Monsters don't scare me. People scare me. What goes on in people's heads scares the bejeebers out of me, so this sort of horror? It's my candy. And for my money, Shirley Jackson is one of the greatest horror writers ever.