I was told by a few people to read this book, many of those people also told me that this book changed their lives and the way they approached horror. Others said that this book is a must-read that delivers horror in a way no other book has. High praise indeed! So, when Folio Society dropped this exquisite version I decided to start the journey, and I have to say I did quite like it; it was a slow brooding horror that seemed to chill the bones and contort the mind.
But having enjoyed it, I wasn’t completely sold.
Of course, I’d watched the television show which was recently out, which I feel may have coloured my enjoyment of this classic, because I was a little let down by the book (please don’t hit me in the face).
I enjoyed the television show so much that I thought the book would be more in the same vein and style of the show that has spawned a reawakening in the consumption of this novel. It didn’t, and I’m going to say I felt a little letdown. Just a little mind you as Jackson quickly allayed these feelings of disappointment!
For starters the book is great, I loved the way Shirley Jackson was able to make Hill House come alive as if the house was a living breathing character all of itself. It’s masterful and shows her brilliance accordingly – from descriptions of the building and her picking out facial elements of the house and transposing this on the structure before our characters gave a sense of brooding and impending horror from the outset. I also enjoyed the way the house seemed to breathe, its unwilling occupants like blood in the veins being pushed around by the ominous presence within.
What makes this book so enjoyable are the characters, each one seems to be hiding something. Each is fully realised and adds to the continuation of the story as subtle layers are added through what they disclose and encounter, and this aids in the storytelling elements and ramping up the fear and dread that awaits them around every corner and every room in Hill House. From our main protagonists to the housekeeper and groundsman all add to the mix an eeriness you can’t wash off and when you add that to the ominous character of Hill House – it’s an unnerving encounter you’d have trouble forgetting.
The horror of this book is most certainly supernatural – and it bleeds into each chapter, each new venture our guests go on. It has an almost dreamlike quality infused within the pages and from time to time this makes the reader feel the sense of unease and puzzlement and we end up wondering if what they are reading is happening or if it’s the character’s imagination running into overdrive from the extenuating circumstances they find themselves thrust into.
The artwork in this edition is breathtaking, the pale blues add a sense of the Gothic but also the use of colour bleaches the life from the pages, making the images look ghostly in appearance.
The thing is, if this book had a colour (a strange observation I know) it would be this bluish-grey, it’s the colour that I saw whilst reading the book.
The artwork perfectly complements this cold and calculating novel and the colour scheme ensures they leave their mark on the reader’s experience of this novel.
The slipcase and the actual cover of the book are pieces of art in their own rights, I’m not sure if the house on the cover is the house I imagined when reading the book but it serves its purpose – it’s creepy and unsettling and gives the reader a small glimpse into the nightmare they are about to enter.
I’m not sold completely on The Haunting of Hill House, I understand and can see that it is a great book, but having it heralded as one of the best pieces of horror writing to have been written seems in my opinion too higher praise.
There are other books for me that go beyond The Haunting of Hill House‘s summit – William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist and Philip Fracassi’s ‘Boys in the Valley‘ are above this in my opinion; two books that I read around the same time and had more of an unsettling effect on me.
The story may have been diluted somewhat with watching the television show first. I had gone into this book expecting all-out horror, jumps and scares, grotesque images and things that would haunt me long after finishing the book.
Instead, I got a more subtly laced horror, an intelligent and beguiling one which seeps into your marrow and chills you from the inside out.
It wasn’t what I expected but I enjoyed it nevertheless and I’d encourage those who have not sampled this book if they can, to sample this version as it’s the best one out there.
The Folio Society edition of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, illustrated by Angie Hoffmeister and introduced by Joyce Carol Oates is available exclusively from www.FolioSociety.com
Shirley Jackson (1918–65) was one of the greatest American gothic writers of the 20th century – an heir to the tradition of Hawthorne and Poe. Jackson was brought up in California and educated in Syracuse, New York, where she met the man she would marry. The couple settled in North Bennington, Vermont, where Jackson spent the last twenty years of her life. Her career writing short stories was lucrative, and for some time she was highly regarded as the author of Life Among the Savages, a witty fictionalised memoir about life as a mother; but this work has now been eclipsed by Jackson’s reputation as the author of horror and ghost-story masterpieces such as the controversial short work ‘The Lottery’ and the novels The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
Angie Hoffmeister (born in Quedlinburg, Germany, in 1989) is an illustrator and printmaker based in Düsseldorf, where she was educated at the Kunstakademie. She uses a range of media – including drypoint, pencil and watercolour – she has also illustrated a number of graphic novels.
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
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