Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House
by Shirley Jackson
narrated by Bernadette Dunne
7.4 hours

This is it. This is the quintessential haunted house story that I suspect is the actual mother of all haunted house stories that we are now familiar with. Four people (an empirically minded scientist determined to prove the existence of the supernatural, another man of a sensitive disposition, a woman of repressed sexuality and, another woman with an uninhibited sexual libido) head into a home reputed to be haunted. Once there, the house captures the investigators' imaginations and events play out and, mess with everyone's psyches. What makes The Haunting of Hill House truly unrivaled among its iterations is the consummate skill with which Shirley Jackson draws the reader into the haunted house along with the four characters. We experience Hill House through Eleanor, a woman escaping her recent past of caring for her dying mother and, the strictures imposed upon her by her sister after the mother's death. Eleanor approaches Hill House with hopes and daydreams of starting a new time in her life, one filled with white oleanders and white stone lions. Once at the house, the disharmonious architecture creates a setting where the listener isn't quite sure what is going on. The inherent qualities of Eleanor's mind and character, her guilt, her wishful thinking, her desperation, all echo through the misaligned halls of Hill House. We are with Eleanor and we understand Eleanor, but is she a reliable narrator of her own story? One is never certain of the reality of Hill House; but the horror of Eleanor's reality is nonetheless poignant.

Bernadette Dunne is pitch perfect as the narrator of The Haunting of Hill House. She hits all the right tones of tentativeness, fear, resolve and confusion of Eleanor. Her voice is evocative and haunting without being too creepy or morbid, dancing on the edge of Gothic melodrama without caving into the temptation of indulging in horror hyperbole, if you will.

Other Stuff: I borrowed a library edition copy of this audiobook form Blackstone Audio, Inc. I also watched the 1963 movie, The Haunting (directed by Rob Wise and starring Claire Bloom, Julie Harris and Russ Tamblyn) as well as the 1999 movie of the same name directed by Jan de Bont and starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Liam Neeson and Owen Wilson. I rented both film adaptations from Netflix and, in fact , because I lost the 1999 DVD, I also dnloaded (rented) the de Bont version from iTunes.


  1. Excellent review of this one, DEC. It is a grand old tale (one that Stephen King has praised and credited through the years). I really need to try the audiobook version as I only read once this ages ago. I still appreciate the Robert Wise adaptation for it for its haunting cinema sense and atmospheric B&W photography (the less said about the '99 Jan de Bont remake the better... I would have lost the DVD, too). Nevertheless, Shirley Jackson's novel is peerless. Thanks for this.

  2. Very nice review! I'm usually a big chicken when it comes to horror and have always been afraid to listen to this title. I don't think your review makes me any more comfortable with the idea of hearing it, but you do make it sound tempting!