One of my all time favourite shows from this past year is The Haunting of Hill House, the Netflix original series based on the novel by the same name by Shirley Jackson.
I had heard of the novel from it being the group read for a readathon hosted by some booktubers I liked, and I was intrigued but never got around to reading it because I couldn’t find a copy in time. So I was aware of the book when I heard about the show being released in October of 2018. I was intrigued and made a note to watch it when it came out. Then it did, and reviews started coming in and I knew I had to push it up my list.
I’m not always a big horror movie/book person, but I’m not opposed to them so I had no issues with The Haunting of Hill House in its basic premise. So I started to watch it, and I was pretty quickly hooked. The show is just so so good! I was obsessed before the first episode was even over.
There are just so many good things about the show. I loved the casting, and the person who chose the child actors should be applauded because they did an excellent job in matching them to the adult actors (or vice versa). The cinematography is beautiful, especially in the funeral episode, and I was wildly impressed with how many of the shots from that episode were continuous and with how long some of them lasted. I loved the Easter eggs of the ghosts hidden behind the main action so that you didn’t notice them until you knew they were there. I also loved the way the story was revealed and how it kept you guessing until pretty much the very end. Just enough details were revealed along the way so that you thought you knew what was happening until you got to the end when finally you had the entire picture.
I genuinely just loved the show so much that I had to make all of my friends watch it, and I feel like I was successful in that mission as I think I convinced several to do so (or am I misremembering? I’m not sure, you’ll have to ask Kari. :P). I also managed to convince my boyfriend to watch it recently, and we watched it together. It was just as good the second time around, but it was almost better too because now I had a more complete idea of the story and I was able to watch it all come together. It was also super fun to watch my boyfriend react to the twists and the different details as they all came together.
So when I saw the book in my overdrive app through my library this month, it seemed like an obvious choice to give it a shot. I was fully aware that the basic premise of the book was different than the show because I read about it on Wikipedia out of curiosity while I was watching the show. However, I was still surprised with how different the book was, and this is where I have to admit something potentially shameful to you: the show was better.
Yes, I know. That’s a very controversial statement, and I’m sure there are people who disagree with me. However, those people probably read the book first and have a deeper understanding of Shirley Jackson as a writer. But, personally, I just enjoyed the show way more. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the book, because it did have it’s own charms, but it wasn’t my favourite. I believe I gave it three out of five stars on GoodReads.
The interesting thing about the book was it’s subtlety. It wasn’t obvious in the same way as the show that the house was haunted. The doctor who brought them all to the house said that it was haunted and that was why they were there, but the things that happened weren’t as explicit. Doors would close themselves and strange things would happen, but there weren’t really any ghosts hiding in the background of scenes. The characters were interesting, and I found myself really empathising with Eleanor, because she really was really easy to relate to and much of the narrative was from her perspective. I also enjoyed the somewhat ambiguous ending of the book. Ultimately though, I just enjoyed the way the story played out in the show way more than it played out in the book.
However, I did find it interesting what pieces of inspiration the show took from the book. The obvious standout is the house. Hill House is an ominous presence in both stories and provides us with our main antagonist. The creators of the show also borrowed names from the book. In the book, the man who built the house is named Crain, and so that’s where the surname of the main cast came from. Additionally, the name of the three youngest Crain children were gathered from the three people that the doctor brought with him to Hill House: Eleanor (Nell), Theo, and Luke. Other standout comparisons were lines from the book that were directly transplanted into the show. I’d give examples of them, but they’re kind of in spoiler-y places in both versions of the story.
Outside of the above, it’s mostly just differences. I fully admit that the show isn’t so much of an adaptation, and it really just seemed to take a general whiff of inspiration from the book. I’m sure this is something that probably really upsets true fans of the book, because I understand the pain of an adaptation that butchers a book that you love. But for me… I can see the comparisons, but the show blows the book out of the water. Yes, I watched the show before I read the book, but I still think I would have liked the show better. The fundamentals of the show, the family dynamics and these siblings trying to deal with this traumatic thing that happened in their history, is just so much more interesting to me than people coming to a haunted house in a weird town and trying to investigate it. I am all in when it comes to watching siblings deal with their past and I really enjoy complicated family dynamics. The characters in the show were better developed and I liked them better on the whole.
The show just struck me as that much more realistic in the way that the characters behaved and reacted to what happened, and what happened was so much more engaging. The television show had me on the edge of my seat, impatiently waiting to find out what was going to happen next, whereas I read the book simply because I had seen the show and was curious how similar the two things were. I know that’s not the best reason to read the book, but it is why I did.
And that’s where it stands. The show was amazing, the book was okay, and if I could recommend you one over the other, it’s probably obvious that I would recommend the show. But what did you think? I’m curious to hear your opinions in the comments below? Do you agree with me? Or did you prefer the book? Let me know.