Would you accept a stranger’s invitation to a “haunted house”? Well, in Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House,” that is exactly what the protagonist, Eleanor, does. However, Jackson puts her own twist on the classic haunted house story by using more confusing, psychological horror and conversational style to really make the horror realistic. Nonetheless, I was a tad disappointed. While I thought it was an interesting read, there were only a few moments that I felt truly scared (and I am easily frightened).
What really struck me about Jackson’s writing style was the contrasting use of syntax and diction. She often uses long sentences that require me to double back to make sure I got every detail. This recurring longevity furthers the suspense and also parallels with Eleanors progression to madness. As Eleanor’s mental state degenerates, the sentences get more methodical and puzzling. This really allows for the reader to see her transformation in real time, and in turn be haunted by it too just like the other characters. However, while sentences grow in complexity with Eleanor, the language remains simplistic throughout. So despite having kafkaesque sentences, the language is accessible and allows for the scary moments to pertain more to the reader. Jackson’s simple language allows for simple sounds and actions to be turned into some of the scariest moments in the book.
I think it’s fair to say the beautifully executed prose in this novel outweighs the plot itself. I applaud Jackson’s for taking a more psychological approach to her novel, and it creates a more unique reading experience as there aren’t as many classic horror tropes. Watching Eleanor descend into madness was definitely interesting as I found myself questioning the mysterious surroundings of Hill House like her. However, I can’t say I was exactly frightened. There were definitely a few moments where I had to put the book down for a second, but these scenes were short lived. Again, I was eager to flip to the next page as the plot was engaging, but ultimately, I was not frightened.
In conclusion, this is a great gothic novel. Jackson’s unique style is fascinating to decipher and reveals a complexity that matches the puzzling nature of Hill House itself. However, I just never got that scared. Nonetheless, I think it’s a perfect dark novel to read to get ready for the upcoming gloominess of winter.