Hill House, built eighty years before the story begins, is a house with a tragic and mysterious history. It was built by Hugh Crain, whose wife died in a carriage accident as she was being driven to the house for the first time. Abandoned after the only living heirs, Hugh Crain’s two daughters, have died, the house is supposed to be the source of strange noises and sights, and no one who rents the house can stay there for very long. Professor Montague, a paranormal investigator, decides to test out these rumors, and plans to spend a week living in Hill House with his assistants. They are Eleanor, a quiet woman who experienced a poltergeist when she was a child; Theodora, who has slight psychic abilities; and Luke, whose aunt owns Hill House. The group isn’t in Hill House for long before they realize that there is something very, very wrong with the house.
The scariest thing about this book is that nothing actually scary really happens – at least, not the type of “scary” we’re used to. This is not a chainsaw-weilding maniac, creepy-things-jumping-out-at-you kind of horror story. Hill House is haunted, there’s no doubt about that, but everything occurs in such a subtle way that you don’t even begin to feel really creeped out until at least the middle of the book. Shirley Jackson is a master at creating a mounting sense of dread (as demonstrated in her brilliant short story “The Lottery”) and her talent is in full effect here. The terror builds slowly, stealthily, and then suddenly everything has gone off the rails and you can’t even pinpoint the precise moment when you knew that something really horrible was going to happen.
“Hill House itself, not sane, stood against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, its walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
Verdict: five out of five stars