Goodreads summary of A Haunting On The Heill By Elizabeth Hand (Review below):
From three-time Shirley Jackson, World Fantasy, and Nebula Award-winning author Elizabeth Hand comes the first-ever authorized novel to return to the world of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House: a suspenseful, contemporary, and terrifying story of longing and isolation all its own.
Holly Sherwin has been a struggling playwright for years, but now, after receiving a grant to develop her play, The Witch of Edmonton, she may finally be close to her big break. All she needs is time and space to bring her vision to life. When she stumbles across Hill House on a weekend getaway upstate, she is immediately taken in by the ornate, if crumbling, gothic mansion, nearly hidden outside a remote village. It’s enormous, old, and ever-so-eerie—the perfect place to develop and rehearse her play.
Despite her own hesitations, Holly’s girlfriend, Nisa, agrees to join Holly in renting the house out for a month, and soon a troupe of actors, each with ghosts of their own, arrive. Yet as they settle in, the house’s peculiarities are made known: strange creatures stalk the grounds, disturbing sounds echo throughout the halls, and time itself seems to shift. All too soon, Holly and her friends find themselves at odds not just with one another but with the house itself. It seems something has been waiting in Hill House all these years, and it no longer intends to walk alone . . .
Two quick notes- 1) I have not read the original work from Shirley Jackson, so I didn’t have any expectations while reading A Haunting On The Hill. 2) A lot of this is going to come down to how bland this book is. Sorry if that becomes repetitive. Actually, I’m not sorry. I suffered.
Reason #1- Imagery
One of the keys to a great horror novel is the imagery. Think about it this way. One of the reasons so few of Stephen King’s work has been successful on the big (or small) screen is that nothing they put on screen can do to you what Stephen King’s Imagery can do to your mind. Elizabeth Hand struggles with this mightily. During one supposed-to-be creepy part. After an actor took a picture, they looked at it, and it had changed. People seemed to be looking at her angrily or doing creepy things. Elizabeth Hand never managed to scare me. Instead, it just seemed silly. A Haunting on the Hill suffers this fate throughout the book.
Reason #2- Bland/Slow
How bland is it? The only thing salty about this book is me while I was reading it (I’ll get that to more specifically below). It was also incredibly slow. And keep in mind that I love slow-roll horror. But this wasn’t slow-roll. This was a no-roll. It started nowhere, and that’s where it stayed. I think that must be pretty hard for a horror novel. Without trying, a horror novel should have a scare or two. Or maybe a rustling of goosebumps. But nope. Nada. None. That also resonates with the bland part, which I guess all goes back to bland writing. Except I had five more important reasons, so I didn’t list it.
Reason #3- Stereotypical
OMG… the amount of stereotypes throughout A Haunting on the Hill is spectacular. Let me list them, if you don’t mind:
- Creepy animals (gigantic rabbits, in this case)
- The creepy neighbor that ends up warning the main character to run for their life, and the main character ignores them.
- ALL THE RED FLAGS- that are completely ignored
- The time jump. The first time Holly visits the house, time suddenly jumps by three hours. That’s fine. Everything’s fine
- The main character is wooed, enchanted by the house, while other characters are running around terrified.
Speaking of characters…
Reason #4- Characters
Thank you to Mulholland Books for an advanced audio ARC of A Haunting on the Hill by Elizabeth Hand, which was released on October 3rd.
Back to the bland. I mean, but can I sprinkle my saltiness onto this book and these characters? Tell me, is this supposed to scare me, make me laugh, or both? It only made me laugh in the not-good way.
‘Stevie nailed it. He was so scary and seductive. I had no idea what he was going to do next.’ ‘I DID,’ Nisa said darkly. ‘He was going to bite my eyes out.’ Holly pulled her towards her. ‘I will not let Stevie bite your eyes out. I won’t let anyone bite your eyes out,’ she murmured and kissed her neck.
This group of characters (who are supposed to be creative actors) are stupid and one-dimensional. The only apparent trait I could discern, and it was with all the characters, was how selfish they were. One just kept running around checking the acoustics for her singing throughout the house. Meanwhile, Holly couldn’t care less about the house trying to kill them. First, she felt “seen” by the house, and second (see quote above), she only cared about the acting.
Reason #5- The Hosue
In a book like A Haunting on the Hill, you expect the house not just to be a haunted house. It should come alive. Moreover, it should come alive and terrify you like any other part of the book. The house should be the main character in the book. However, Elizabeth Hand did not bring the house to life. At most, it is a silly background to a bunch of “unexplained” events that are… well… bland. Did I say bland already? I hope I didn’t make this review bland.
First, the sound effects in the audiobook were quite well done. They would have been much more effective used with a better book. The narrator, Carol Monda, did everything she could with the material given to her. She even sang and sang damn well. Unfortunately, such an outstanding performance was wasted on A Haunting on the Hill. I hope to listen to her again soon.