Thoughts on a mediocre haunting...
At the outset, I'd like to say that I read Richard Matheson's "Hell House" just before I read "The Haunting of Hill House", which was probably the biggest literary snafu of my life. It's far better to read Jackson first, because its an older novel and in many ways, more of a subtle haunting.
"Hell House" comparison aside, I thought "The Haunting of Hill House" was a tad boring. The haunting phenomena was subtle (as in some pounding on the doors, holding hands with what you thought was a friend but was a ghost), and very spaced out in the book. I prefer haunting stories to take you by the scruff of your neck, drag you to hell and back several times, and leave you begging for mercy at the end. I didn't feel that way about "The Haunting of Hill House" at all. This is one of the only times that I have said in my life that the movie was better. (The movie made in 1999 with Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta Jones.)
One of the biggest problems I had with the book were the characters. In the beginning I liked Theo, the mostly cheerful and witty assistant who has a slight inclination towards a sixth sense. As the book progressed, I found that Theo was selfish, annoying and catty.
As for the character we take as our main, Eleanor (Nell), she's a loon. I can't tell what's actually happening to her versus what's going on in her own mind. She's a weak character who keeps reminding herself that she's "really here, really doing this" since she's broken out of her mother and sister's control. Her suicide at the end of the book is no real surprise. Despite the fact that the curve she crashes the car into is supposed to have caused many deaths, I think Eleanor would have found a way to kill herself at some point. She wasn't used to having the freedom to run her life, and as the novel progresses I see that as being what causes her to go mad, not the influences of the house. Perhaps the house did a little prodding, with writing messages in blood on the walls saying "Welcome Home Eleanor" twice, but I still blame her weak mind instead of the house.
The opening sentence was so frightening, so promising that the rest of the book couldn't be anything but disappointing. Starting off describing a house where "whatever walked there walked alone" and ending it in a predictable suicide by an already unstable character is not the stuff of a literary classic. Perhaps when it first was published it was terrifying, but now it feels outdated and boring.