I am SO HAPPY that I read this book before watching the Netflix adaptation. I can absolutely see why some of my friends have been disappointed with the book after watching the show. The book is simplistic, where the show is symbolic. The book is atmospheric, where the show is action-packed. The book and its characters are concise, where the show is deeply complex. They are two very different animals, but, if taken in carefully, both can be appreciated in their own ways.
First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, the lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.
As mentioned, I hadn’t seen the TV version before reading. I had watched “The Haunting” movie, which is a much truer, albeit liberal, adaption of Shirley Jackson’s material, so any visual queues I could draw came from the film.
The Haunting of Hill House a creepy and quick read. The horror is in the unknown; what is happening to Nell? What are the secrets of the amorphous house? Is it haunted or are its inhabitants? A reader has to draw their own conclusions, which, in my opinion, makes for a really great book. The ambiguity of the ending leaves us unsatisfied, thirsty, and thoughtful. Books that end this way don’t always please everyone, but I think that, objectively, thy serve more purpose than stories that give us all the answers.
I absolutely adored and devoured the show, but the ending is where I lost my starry-eyed gaze. The show, contrastingly to the novel, spoon-feeds is all the answers we were longing for. With one final gust of wind, the magic is let out of the balloon. I was pretty disappointed to have all of my questions answered. I love the thrill of a cliffhanger, the burning curiosity of a leftover loose end, the discomfort of uncertainty.
Shirley Jackson’s spooky book preserves all of this chaotic wonder, and for that, I really enjoyed the book.
My extra-special favorite part was noting all the references to the book that were carefully and thoughtfully threaded throughout the show. I can really see why Stephen King enjoyed the adaptation, it was inventive and not afraid to free itself from its original material, but it remained loyal. The little tributes expressed in the show made me gasp with joy each and every time.