“The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson

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“NO LIVE organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.”

With an opening sentence like that, how can you not read this book? And it just gets better from there. First published in 1959, The Haunting of Hill House has been praised by the likes of Stephen King and Neil Gaiman, so it doesn’t need any help from me. (There is the recent TV series as well, though I haven’t seen that.) Suffice to say that Jackson took a bit of Henry James, a tiny pinch of H. P. Lovecraft and, being ahead of her time, mixed in a bit of psychedelia to come up with a story that has shaped every Hollywood haunted house film since.

The book’s influence is so pervasive, it almost (I stress almost) got in the way of my reading, as I was constantly thinking things like, “Oh, that’s Amityville Horror,” or The Others or the horrible 1999 film The House on Haunted Hill that has almost nothing in common with the book.

But the book is far better than any film/TV imitator. Jackson is incredibly skilled at playing with the reader, at making you uncertain about what is real, what isn’t and which characters you can and can’t trust. The result is that, even when we’re dealing with scenes and characters which feel incredibly familiar, which have been copied a hundred times in other places, this story still delivers suprises and frights.

So what are you waiting for? Stop reading this blog and dig into The Haunting of Hill House!

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