Hello readers and Merry Christmas! This week, I will be reviewing The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, but before we get into reviewing the book, I thought I would do a quick review of the television show too, since watching that is what led me to read the book which inspired it. Although the TV show does not have the same story line or characters as Jackson’s novel, it’s influence is evident after reading.
So What’s the Netflix original show about? The story follows the Crane family, Hugh and Olivia and their five children Steven, Shirley, Theodora, Luke, and Eleanora. Moving between past and present, we see the family as young children moving into Hill House while their parents renovate and flip the property, only to be haunted by increasingly violent and terrifying paranormal activity, then later as adults trying to cope with the tragedies that befell them at the property as well as the ghosts, both real and imagined, which haunt them still.
I absolutely adored this series and quite honestly I could gush and gush about all the reasons it was so incredible. First of all, the writing and directing by Mike Flanagan is utter perfection. This series could have been filled with cheap, jumpy scares and horror cliches, but instead the show has a slow burning tension, building to some genuinely scary scenes which stay with you long after you switch off. Flanagan’s decision to include a multitude of ghosts which have no part in the storyline or reason for being there, only adds to that sense of unease as the viewer constantly feels they are being watched. I love his slick and subtle directing style. Of note, is the constant, unedited and seamless shot of episode six at the funeral home which left me in complete awe (I cannot begin to imagine how much work and how many takes that took to pull off, but it was completely worth it). The show is undoubtedly modern and yet it maintains that sense of old fashioned, gothic horror. The switching between past and present maintains the suspense, giving the viewer just enough of a taste each episode to have them coming back for more. The cinematography, set designs and costumes all need their own round of applause and the acting is exceptional, with every single character being perfectly cast and played.
I have read a lot of complaints regarding the ending, with people calling it predictable and hammy, but truthfully I loved how it ended. With so many horror movies and shows these days ending that same ‘The end…or is it?’ kind of way, I was glad that there was a definite conclusion and I’m ok with it being a happy ending of sorts, because by the time the series ended I genuinely liked the Crane family and I was emotionally invested in their story. I was glad to see it worked out, for most of them anyway. But even with the finality of this nicely rounded conclusion, there are just enough questions left unanswered to allow for further series unrelated to the Cranes. What is the deal with Hill House? Was it built like that or did it become that way through tragedy of circumstance? Who are those other ghosts and what are their stories? And what of Mr Hill himself? Why did he build such a home? I for one am excited to find out and cannot wait for season two.
After watching the series, I was excited to read the story which inspired it. I have often found that a really amazing book can inspire an incredibly bad adaptation, but I have rarely experienced it the other way around, with a show or movie being better than the book. On this occasion, I loved the book as much as I loved the Netflix reimagining and as I said, whilst they are so different in so many ways, they have all of the important bits in common. So what’s the plot for the book?
Four seekers have arrived at the rambling old pile known as Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of psychic phenomena; Theodora, his lovely assistant; Luke, the future inheritor of the estate; and Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman with a dark past. As they begin to cope with horrifying occurrences beyond their control or understanding, they cannot possibly know what lies ahead. For Hill House is gathering its powers – and soon it will choose one of them to make its own. Twice filmed as The Haunting, and the inspiration for a new 10-part Netflix series, The Haunting of Hill House is a powerful work of slow-burning psychological horror.
Jackson is an incredible writer and way ahead of her time. From the first chapter, she creates an unnerving atmosphere leaving the reader ill at ease throughout. Whilst the tension builds slowly to its final and terrible conclusion, there is just enough action and paranormal activity throughout to keep you in suspense and make you almost impatiently want to continue reading. The characters are so well written, particularly the narrator Eleanor and the books exploration of mental health is so beautifully done, that it leads the reader to question whether any of it was even real. The house is so perfectly evoked and created by her wonderfully vivid descriptions, that it becomes a character in of itself, a living and breathing entity toying with its inhabitants. Finally, the perfectly creepy and beyond strange Dudley’s constantly warn the visitors and indeed the reader of the dangers that lurk, whilst never specifying what those dangers actually are. All you know is that something is very wrong with Hill House and at times, you wish the characters would heed those warnings. What I liked best about this book is that the scares aren’t obvious or cliched, but rather a slow and intense feeling of something being wrong. Her writing evokes an atmosphere that stays with you long after you have put the book down.
And that brings me to why I think this reimagining was such a success. There are things in common between the TV series and the books. Hill House is at the centre of both, of course, and the series keeps the Dudley’s as the housekeepers, uses the same names for the main characters and even lifts direct quotes from the book, but in terms of plot and characters, the two could not be more different. Unlike the book, where the visitors to Hill House go there knowing and indeed hoping to encounter paranormal activity, in the series the Crane family have no idea what awaits them there. But what Flanagan was able to do so perfectly, was to capture the ambiance and eery atmosphere of Jackson’s world. Despite its many differences, the series captures the same suspense and tension as the book as well as the same general feeling of unease. That’s why I was even more impressed with the TV show AFTER reading the book, because Flanagan has managed to recreate the feeling and vibes of Jackson’s incredible book, whilst updating it for a modern audience.
Both the book and the TV series get Five stars from me! Read and watch immediately.