I have heard great things about this novel, plus I loved author Shirley Jackson’s short story collection The Lottery and Other Stories, so I went in with high expectations for this story. Disappointingly, it didn’t deliver due to a lack of scares and characters that I didn’t connect with.
The premise is that a paranormal scientist, Dr. Montague, recruits people who have had paranormal events occur in their life come stay at the infamous Hill House that is rumored to be haunted. He reaches out to a dozen possibilities, but only two, timid Eleanor and bohemian Theodora, plus Luke who is the future heir of the house, commit to staying. A married pair of caretakers cook for them and tend the house, but leave by 6 pm as they refuse to stay in the remote location after dark. The original four start to experience strange phenomena, with Eleanor seeming to be the most susceptible. The supernatural happenings are always unseen, with implied threats, but not physical manifestations. The four veer between documenting these events and then acting as if they simply are on holiday at a country estate. Later, the doctor’s imperious wife, and family friend Arthur join them; but again it is Eleanor that the house seems to be focusing on.
Published in 1959, it is a product of its time, so the dated references both help it and hinder it. In many ways, I enjoyed this look into the late 1950s era, which relied on letters to reach out to people and no technology to help or distract them. However, the overnight guests were inexplicitly snippy and spiteful with one another with fragile Eleanor getting on my nerves, especially with her oft-repeated ” Journeys end in lover’s meetings” quote. But Jackson did describe the Gothic house well, with excellent world-building of the house’s dark past.
The conclusion came suddenly, with the Doctor insisting that Eleanor leave by herself with no assistance, and of course, this week-long experiment ends tragically. Since I can’t help but look at the narrative through a modern lens, there were so many other things this group could have done differently to have a better outcome. But then, it wouldn’t have become a classic horror story if it ended well, would it?