“I am disappearing inch by inch into this house, I am going apart a little bit at a time because all this noise is breaking me; why are the others frightened?”
When it was published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House brought new style and substance to the haunted house genre, making it more cerebral, more psychological. In doing so, Jackson created one of the creepiest haunted house stories on the market that still inspires that chill-down-your-spine feeling.
The story follows a group of people investigating the paranormal activity reported at Hill House. Led by Dr. John Montague, a supernatural researcher, the group embark on a retreat for the summer at Hill House with plans to report their findings. As the group dives deeper into the house, strange things begin to happen that set everyone, especially narrator, Eleanor Vance, on edge.
The remarkable thing about The Haunting of Hill House is that the ghosts never make a visible appearance. They are an invisible force throughout the book, always in the corner of your eye. Paranormal activity manifests itself with doors suddenly being open when you swear it was closed moments before or violent knocking in the early hours of the morning. In fact, the ghosts and paranormal activity kind of take a backseat to the characters in the novel, focusing on Eleanor’s relationship with everyone in the house.
By choosing to focus on the characters instead of the ghosts, Hill House is much scarier than your typical ghost story. As everything begins to unravel and you start to realize the madness the house can produce, that proves to be infinitely scarier than any ghostly vision. It’s by setting up a character that you root for and want to succeed and witnessing their spiral into madness and obsession that makes Hill House a tense, frightening ghost story.
Hill House is the kind of book that makes you feel anxious about whether you are truly home alone. It’s the kind of book that encourages your house to start settling, creating all kinds of creaks and groans that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. That is why The Haunting of Hill House is so successful to this day and continues to make an appearance on top horror novel lists. It instills that fear that a simple house could disrupt whatever sanity you cling to.