Mini Reviews: The Turn of the Screw and The Haunting of Hill House

For October’s Off the Grid readathon, I decided to build a spooky little TBR! I ended up reading two classics of the horror genre: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. This decision may or may not have been influenced by my recent binging of the Netflix adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House…

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Publication date: 16 April 1898

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

A very young woman’s first job: governess for two weirdly beautiful, strangely distant, oddly silent children, Miles and Flora, at a forlorn estate…An estate haunted by a beckoning evil.

Half-seen figures who glare from dark towers and dusty windows- silent, foul phantoms who, day by day, night by night, come closer, ever closer. With growing horror, the helpless governess realizes the fiendish creatures want the children, seeking to corrupt their bodies, possess their minds, own their souls…

But worse-much worse- the governess discovers that Miles and Flora have no terror of the lurking evil.

For they want the walking dead as badly as the dead want them.

The Turn of the Screw is a classic I hadn’t read yet, but had been on my radar for years. It was recommended to me by my mum because it’s the archetype for the ‘spooky country house’ horror novels I’ve been enjoying so much over the past few years. I was absolutely blown away by this fabulous novella and have been kicking myself for not reading it sooner!

I haven’t really read any classic ghost stories (the one exception being A Christmas Carol, which is not my favourite), so I was sure that the haunting in The Turn of the Screw would be downplayed somehow — I didn’t expect any ghosts to actually make an appearance in the novella. Oh, how wrong I was! The Turn of the Screw is obviously the basis on which the modern horror genre is based on. It contains so many of the delicious tropes I love:

  • A isolated house in the countryside
  • Creepy children
  • Watchful figures at a distance
  • Faces peeking in windows
  • An unreliable narrator
  • The sense of being watched when you are alone

This is not a book in which you get too attached to the characters, but they absolutely play up that unsettled feeling for the reader — whether they are the cause or the victim, you can decide. The descent of the unnamed governess’s descent into terror and possible madness is so well done, and I loved the way the book ended. There is a lot of reading between the lines that must be done — as with many classics — so a deeper look is required to really get the most out of this story.

Pick up a copy of The Turn of the Screw at the following sites (affiliate links):

Book Depository | Blackwells

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Publication year: 1959

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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, his 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.

I had never read any Shirley Jackson (other than The Lottery, which I think every school child in America has to read at some point), but have had a couple of her books sitting on my shelf for years. Having just binged (and loved) the Netflix adaptation of arguably her most famous book, I decided to finally read The Haunting of Hill House this month, and I’m so glad I did.

This book is a very interesting one, as I had expected a full-on horror story. However, I’ve now seen it described as a work of terror rather than horror, and I think that perfectly suits the book. We follow Eleanor’s thoughts as she leaves her mundane and quite sad life behind for a summer studying the paranormal phenomenon at Hill House. As she spends days at Hill House, she begins to descend into a state of…what? Possession? Madness? Guilt over past actions? That’s the thing I really enjoyed about this book — it’s so open ended and she’s such an unusual character that you can read it in a number of ways.

While this book isn’t all horror all the time like you might expect, the horror moments in The Haunting of Hill House are some of the best I’ve read. In fact, some of these moments are pulled directly from the book into the show and they translate so well to the screen — the horror is so cinematic and visual. I wont say too much about these moments because of spoilers, but there’s a bit with hands that I still, unfortunately, think about every night. Urg.

The Haunting of Hill House is another must-read for horror fans, whether or not you’ve watched the show. It is incredibly accessible, readable, and has so much potential for excellent re-readability!

Want to pick up a copy of The Haunting of Hill House? You can find it at the following sites (affiliate links):

Book Depository | Blackwells

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