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  • Writer's pictureHannah Zunic

Back to Hill House We Go: A Review of A Haunting on the Hill by Elizabeth Hand

Hello, Book Nerds! Welcome back to Reading Has Ruined My Life or welcome if you are new. As always, my name is Hannah and I am your captain on this journey into my bookcases.


I am coming at you hot, once again, with a new horror review! I can’t stay away from the love of my life for too long. If you haven’t guessed, I’m ready for Spooky Season and it’s not even close to April when I’m writing this review.


Speaking of reviews, what book am I reviewing today? Well please welcome to the stage A Haunting on the Hill by Elizabeth Hand!

Book cover of A Haunting on the Hill by Elizabeth Hand.

Before I even get to the synopsis, we need to talk about Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and where exactly A Haunting on the Hill stands in Shirley Jackson’s universe as today’s read is set in Jackson’s famous Hill House. A Haunting on the Hill is not a direct sequel to The Haunting of Hill House. Both books are set in the same universe where all the events mentioned in The Haunting of Hill House, and the events of that book itself, are canon in A Haunting on the Hill. But, A Haunting on the Hill is an authorized novel–the first and only novel to have this distinction–set in the world Shirley Jackson created. As I said, this is not a direct sequel but it certainly works as one.

Book cover of The Hunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

Now let’s get to the synopsis. As always, a spoiler alert is in order. This is your one and only warning. Long time readers know I love to spoil the entirety of the books I read. You’ve been warned. I also must issue a content and trigger warning. A Haunting on the Hill has mentions of sexual assault, rape, and physical abuse. I will not be talking about these topics in my review, but please note they’re there and cannot be avoided when reading this story. Now let’s crack in.


Holly Sherwin is making her grand return to the stage. Once a 30-under-30 playwright, a scandal ruined her name years ago. Now she has a new play entitled Witching Night that’s ready to be workshopped. But instead of doing a traditional workshop, she rents out a big ole derelict mansion in upstate New York. That derelict mansion is none other than Hill House.


Cue the thunder and lightning. Cue the creepy music.

Holly is unaware of the history of Hill House when she initially rents the space; nor does she really care about its history when people begin mentioning the creepy shit that’s occurred there. Her thoughts are solely on her play. So off to Hill House we go. Holly arrives with her girlfriend Nisa; who is in charge of adapting a few murder ballads for the show, and their friend Stevie; who is playing the Devil and doing the sound design. Also joining them is Amanda Greer, a washed up older actress who is going to be the star of the show.


The goal of this workshop is to get Witching Hour off the ground. The goal is to make the energy of the show and that between the actors so insanely good that investors would be stupid to pass up Witching Hour. And it’s going to be all thanks to Hill House. Those unsettling vibes and terrifying experiences are going to bond the cast and give life to their show.


Except Hill House has other plans. It always has other plans. Hill House will either drive these actors insane, cause them to turn on each other, or kill them. Or a combination of all three. The house on the hill will give these people the fright of their lives, and it just might take their lives as well.

Cue the thunder and lightning and creepy music again!

First things first, this novel is atmospheric as hell. The details are absolute perfection. I was inside Hill House and I was so glad I was there. The details are why I love gothic literature. There’s nothing else like it. A Haunting on the Hill is no different. It’s chock full of breathtaking, and sometimes terrifying, details. The prose and details are a ten-out-of-ten.

Standing o.
Give me gothic literature prose every day!

The characters on the other hand, not so much. Holly is a terrible main character. I feel this is potentially on purpose. She comes across as really pretentious. None of the characters are all that likable if I’m being honest and that's likely the point. They all are kinda shitty people, so by the end I was more or less just waiting for something bad to happen to all of them. They are realistic. They all have some good and bad sides, I simply don’t care for them all that much.


I also have an issue with the way this novel is set up. The story begins in Holly’s POV. We begin this novel in first person. After a few chapters, the POV switches to third person so readers can follow the other three characters. Why? Just why? I hate it here. Why does this book begin in a first-person perspective and randomly turn to third person objective? The whole book should have been third person objective. Or fully first person. I don’t care which one, it can’t be both though, it’s one or the other.


Now for the main reason you’re all here. Does A Haunting on the Hill hit the same way The Haunting of Hill House does? No, absolutely not. The Haunting of Hill House has magic in it. Throughout the entire story it keeps readers jumping back and forth between “is everything happening a supernatural occurrence?” or “is this all happening in the main character’s mind?” Shirley Jackson walked the line between those two notions perfectly. Readers are still arguing about it to this day. A Haunting on the Hill firmly plants its feet in the supernatural camp. And I think that’s the novel’s downfall.


What makes The Haunting of Hill House so good is the back and forth. It keeps readers guessing. It’s great psychological horror. Probably the best psychological horror that’s even been done and ever will be done. While I love me some supernatural horror, the version of Hill House in A Haunting on the Hill doesn’t work for me. It stands too firm in the supernatural when its roots expertly toed the line.


At the end of the day, I don’t hate this read. I enjoyed it enough. The atmosphere and detail work are impeccable. This book has its faults but it also has some high points. Overall it’s just mid.


With that, I must bid you all adieu. I hope you enjoyed your time here today, I’m so glad you could join us. And I shall see you all again next week with another new review.


Until then, stay safe, wash your hands, and read some good books for me.

Bears waving.
See y'all then, bye!

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