I think what makes Shirley Jackson’s writing so effective is the underlying uncertainty you feel when reading her works. Under the surface, something isn’t right. There’s a gothic creepiness that others have copied, but which Jackson first mastered.
The Haunting of Hill House has this trait, but it’s certainly no We Have Always Lived in the Castle. This may be in part due to the fact that we’re dealing with a much more supernatural book here. The title alone tips off the reader to potential paranormal phenomena. When these phenomena do make their presence in the book, I believe it distracts us from the wonderfully-drawn characters. Now, I would make an argument for the point that in this book, Hill House is itself a character, but it cannot capture our attention the way Eleanor should have. In The Haunting of Hill House you find the various psychoses, the strange and the bullies, that make Jackson’s writing so compelling. But the forces of the other world can distract us from these. It feels as though the story becomes about the haunting or the house, not so much about the fragility of the human mind, or the human capacity to hurt one another.
Regardless, I find Jackson’s writing so incredibly well crafted. She creates magnificent characters and her sentences are dark, yet lovely. There’s much that can be said about her wonderful characterization of the house, how it preys on the weak. But isn’t it so much sadder when it is our fellow human who preys on the weakness of other humans? There’s some of that here, but nowhere near the magnitude of a story like We Have Always Lived in the Castle. If you haven’t read that one yet, I highly recommend it, though this one is good too.