A Haunting on the Hill
Mulholland Books (October 3, 2023)
Reviewed by Carson Buckingham
When you have the hubris to take on writing a sequel of an iconic classic like Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, you better be able to deliver the goods.
This book fell far short of that mark.
Holly is a playwright who rents Hill House for her cast/crew to rehearse the play that she hopes will win her the money and respect of her peers that has, so far, eluded her. In the cast is Nisa, her girlfriend (who also takes the blue ribbon for most annoying character),is a singer-songwriter who has written the score for the play; a past-her-expiration-date actress, Amanda, who is hoping to defibrillate her career and return to the spotlight; and a theatre friend, Stevie, who will handle the sound as well as his part in the play. Holly’s parts are written in the first person, but the others are in the third person, so this inspires a bit of grammatical vertigo throughout the book. And once you meet these people, there is so much exposition about each character vomited upon the reader that one almost forgets that Hill House is even there! They are four completely self-absorbed thespians “strutting and fretting their hours upon the stage” that is Hill House. The actors themselves are continually annoying, not too bright, and not terribly nice people loaded with agendas, who are looking out for Number One. How can a reader care about people like that? This reader certainly didn’t.
But even with pages and pages of exposition, these characters still come off as two-dimensional and unconvincing. The parts of the story that are supposed to be creepy are tossed in with almost no building of suspense, and therefore, fell pretty flat. It almost seems as if they’re chucked in there with the special effects department in mind for the movie that the writer obviously hopes that this book will become. Unfortunately, it winds up being more like Go Set a Watchman is to To Kill a Mockingbird, in that it was a valiant effort, but will be forgotten in short order. The Haunting of Hill House has been venerated and studied for 64 years and will go on for 64 more. In A Haunting on the Hill, there is little literary achievement here that will be remembered, because the reader is encouraged to think of this work as picking up where Shirley Jackson left off and it just plain failed. I was embarrassed for Elizabeth Hand.
Furthermore, I was astounded that the Jackson estate approved this project. When compared to the original, this book comes across about as riveting and tasty as a Coke Zero. Elizabeth Hand created an oversimplified version of a disturbingly complex haunted house, and for some unknown reason, the strange play they are rehearsing is about witches and vaguely references Macbeth which doesn’t really do much for this book but add a lame layer of ‘with it’ pomposity. I might have liked it better and enjoyed it more if Hand had given it a different title and it had stood on its own; but as it was, I was continually harking back to Jackson’s book as I read, and A Haunting on the Hill suffered greatly as a result of such unavoidable comparisons.
Jackson’s work is a masterpiece of subtle psychological, supernatural horror, as opposed to Hand’s obvious and poorly-developed effort. As a matter of fact, it seems very derivative of her Wylding Hall novel. The difference is that the central characters in Wylding Hall were musicians and those in A Haunting on the Hill were actors.
I suppose I was hoping for something that would at least make the original insane house the star of the show again; but instead, the author brought in completely new and unthought-out protocols as to how the house now behaves.
There are some seminal classics that should just be left alone. They don’t require sequels, prequels, additions, or changes. They do not need a partner, and there is no benefit of such forced society to the reader or the writer.
This is an okay haunted house novel, but it’s not a good Hill House novel by any definition.
If you still want to read it, borrow it from the library.
1 star. Not recommended.
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