A review by Nithya, our student intern:

Since the pandemic has started, Netflix has gained more than 15 million users worldwide. Many shows have risen in popularity over the time we’ve been stuck inside, and none with the same ability to terrify like The Haunting anthology series. 

Shirley Jackson’s legacy as an author is immortal. Her work has been described as some of the greatest horror fiction of the 20th century by the likes of Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and many other refutable talents. Even if the genre existed before, Jackson perfected the craft of haunted house literature, and the cinematic appeal of her most famous work lends itself well to successful horror television. For fans of the show or those who just want a good scare this Halloween, I highly recommend another horror classic, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. 

The story is centered around four main characters: Dr. John Montague, a supernatural investigator; Eleanor Vance, an unwilling recluse; Theodora, a dramatic Bohemian artist; and Luke Sanderson, the heir to the Hill House building. This unlikely party heads up to Hill House to spend the summer. Soon after everyone arrives, they start having paranormal experiences separate from each other within the confines of the house. Eleanor is particularly affected, tormented by spirits unseen by the rest of the residents. As the story progresses, the haunting gets worse, finally culminating in a serious incident that ends everyone’s stay at the infamous Hill House forever. 

This novel, that would otherwise have a simple plot with simple execution, tackles the haunted house trope with nuance and precision. Jackson reveals to the reader that houses aren’t haunted, people are. The characters are given higher importance compared to the specters and the novel allows for those characters to bring each other to the breaking point. All of the excellent tension created in this novel is character driven, and it’s a refreshing perspective to see after years of media producing scary monster after scary monster. The Haunting of Hill House proves that you don’t need a fictional beast in horror fiction; humanity is more than enough to be truly terrifying. 

The Haunting of Hill House is also an exceptional text for interpretation. With the ending of the novel being ambiguous, it’s up to the reader to decide what happened to the ill-fated protagonists. Jackson gives agency to the character of Eleanor, and her role in the ghost attacks can be heavily disputed. Was she the perpetrator of terrors that befell the Hill House, or was she just an unfortunate victim of the paranormal? This interesting question keeps the novel afloat and allows readers to return again and again to answer it. For those who love character analysis, The Haunting of Hill House is a fascinating subject. 

The novel was published in 1959, and the setting and language reflect this time period very heavily. This older language and a select few sensitive subjects that are brought up throughout the story may make this a difficult read for some, but it more than makes up for them with incredible written characters, intelligent commentary, and a truly bone-chilling atmosphere. The Haunting of Hill House is a horror triumph, and I urge you to crack it open this Halloween.