I consider myself relatively well-read but every now and again a friend of mine puts paid to my hubris by introducing me to a famous writer I’ve never heard of. Shirley Jackson was a late discovery last year and I started with a book of her short stories, The Lottery and Other Stories. The Lottery is probably one of the most famous short stories in American literature and it’s the chilling account of an annual tradition in a small rural community. The Lottery was first published in The New Yorker in June 1948 and both the magazine and Jackson were shocked by the public reaction; readers cancelled their subscription to the magazine and Jackson received hate mail throughout that summer.
Jackson had a short career, dying of heart failure at the early age of forty-eight, after many struggles with illness throughout her lifetime. Although she only published for a little over twenty years she was prolific in different genres, writing short stories and novels, memoir, and children’s fiction. Her acclaimed ghost story, The Haunting of Hill House, has been cited by Stephen King as one of the best horror novels of the last century and been adapted for film twice, in 1963 and 1999. (The 1963 version is apparently the one to watch.)
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is Jackson’s final novel and widely considered to be her masterpiece. It’s a psychological suspense novel narrated by Merricat Blackwood, a teenage girl who lives with her sister, Constance, and uncle Julian in a large house near a small village. The rest of the Blackwood family were poisoned with arsenic at dinner a number of years previously and Constance was tried for their murder but acquitted. The reader realises pretty quickly that Merricat is a strange girl, a believer in magic, sometimes prone to violent thoughts, and perhaps her version of events isn’t to be trusted.
One of my New Year’s resolutions was to read more widely: more literature in translation, and genres that I wouldn’t usually gravitate towards. If anyone has any recommendations for other classic horror novels, let me know in the comments. Given that I’m a bit of a scaredy cat, nothing too gruesome please!