Book Club Discussion: ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ by Shirley Jackson

For years, I have been wanting to read this book but never got a chance to. I have, however, seen the movie, titled “The Haunting”, starring Catherine Zeta Jones, Liam Neesen and Lili Taylor as Eleanor. I normally do try to read the book before the movie but in this instance I didn’t even know it was a book until a few years ago.

Having seen the movie, I was excited to read it for book club, because usually it’s always better than the book. However, I must say, in this instance, I felt like I was missing a whole part of the plot. Where the book ends, the movie had added a whole other subplot, which seemed to tie up some of the loose questions that were left unanswered

It was one of the biggest criticisms from the other members in book club. They felt like Shirley Jackson would bring up a point in the story and when you were excited to see it where it would lead, she just kind of dropped it. Or she would bring in a random scene only to move on to the next without any reason.

There were mixed reactions about the book overall. Some were let down because they were expecting a good scare, while others argued that yes, it’s tame for modern standards, but for the time (1950s) this book was scary. Others, who don’t necessarily read horror , liked this book because of the psychological elements to it.

In short, a doctor, looking to analyze how paranormal activity can affect the psyche, invites two women to stay with him at, you guessed it, a haunted house. The soon to be heir of the house is also invited, basically to watch over things. And of course things begin to happen.

The two women – Theo and Eleanor – are invited because of their sensitive nature to unknown occurrences. The story focuses on Eleanor, a mousy quiet woman who lives with her sister and brother-in-law, who yearns for an adventure and accepts the invitation to stay at Hill House. Upon arriving at the house, she immediately becomes affected by the things around her and how the others treat her.

I will agree with the others that this book is definitely a psychological thriller and while it wasn’t scary, it did have enough suspense to keep me turning the pages. However, one of the biggest things that Shirley Jackson doesn’t quite answer is why Eleanor is more affected than the others. She leaves it open for interpretation, which actually made for a good discussion in book club. Was she simply just crazy? Or did the house have the same kind of influence on her that it did on the previous occupants? For a book that many were on the fence about, we discussed it for nearly 2 hours.

Despite my initial disappointment that it wasn’t like the movie or vice versa, once I looked at the book for what it was, I must say that it stands on its own and is definitely a good read.


Have you read “The Haunting of Hill House?” What did you think? What are some other good spooky reads you would recommend? Let’s discuss?

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