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Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson - Reviewed by Megan Farquhar

Just as the characters in The Haunting of Hill House are eager not to let the house twist its way into their minds, I too have fallen victim to this book. It’s been a long time since I’ve sat up so late, promising to sleep as soon as I finish the chapter, only to devour the entire book in the early hours.

Stephen King described The Haunting of Hill House as ‘the perfect haunted house story’, and I have no reason to doubt him. This book will coil itself around you in the most deliciously creepy way.

Four individually charming characters meet at Hill House, known for its gruesome history and haunted past. There is Dr. Montague, an academic who invites them to the house for the summer to monitor and investigate paranormal phenomenon. There is Luke, heir to the house. Theodora, a confident, sensitive woman with supposed psychic abilities, and Eleanor, the victim of a proposed poltergeist as a child who is deeply marred by her relationship with her mother and sister. These three are the doctor’s perfect assistants, and what starts as a light-hearted holiday with blossoming attachments quickly descends into a deep, dark nightmare.

As one of the party slips into paranoia, and jealousy takes over and friendships become flayed, we slither into madness along with them, wondering all the while, ‘What is really happening?’

This book is terrifying, but not because of ghosts and ghouls. Jackson does not rely on hauntings or ectoplasmic apparitions or things that go bump in the night to instil fear in the reader. It is the unnerving, ceaseless disquieting sense that something is absolutely, undoubtedly, very wrong.

Jackson’s prose is masterful, lacing intricate fears into ordinary days, and doubts into ordinary minds, making you question the significance of every passing moment in that house. We watch, piece by piece, as luxuriously charming characters fragment, and ugly, disturbed faces grin beneath the surface.

This is a story of unspeakable fear and the disintegration of ordinary minds. But, as you read this perfectly autumnal, Halloween novel, never forget: Hill House, not sane, has stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continue upright, bricks meet neatly, floors are firm, and doors are sensibly shut; silence lies steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walks there, walks alone.