Category Archives: Shirley Jackson

The Tooth – Shirley Jackson

Well that’s what you get for scheduling posts isn’t it? Yesterday I promised you not one but two reviews and this then didn’t go live, but it means I am a few days ahead so that’s ok and really I do think that Shirley Jackson’s collection ‘The Tooth’, which is another of the mini classics Penguin are publishing that I mentioned yesterday. Like with Carson McCullers ‘Wunderkind’ I thought that Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Tooth’ was going to be a novella and instead found a gripping and rather dark collection of tales instead.

All the five tales included in ‘The Tooth’ actually come from Shirley Jackson’s extended collection of short stories ‘The Lottery & Other Stories’ which was originally published in 1949. Having previously read ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ I have to say I had high hopes that this mini-collection would be full of dark little tales that unnerved me and they didn’t disappoint. It’s a collection that unnerves you as the tales all have a familiarity with the real world going on as normal in the back ground while the lead characters undergo trying horrors and eerie moments.

I would say that of the collection it is both the title story ‘The Tooth’ and ‘The Lottery’ which are the most famous of his short stories. ‘The Tooth’ being a very unnerving, especially as I don’t like anything to do with teeth so this one actually bothered me a lot, tale about Clara Spencer who must travel to New York City in order to have a tooth seen too. On her way there a stranger, Jim, keeps appearing in wherever she goes and things get stranger and stranger from there. It’s an interesting look on one person’s perception of reality and in some ways how we see the world differently when we are undergoing pain or stress.

‘The Lottery’ was again a tale that bothered me. In a small village people are randomly chosen, hence the name of the tale, to be stoned to death by friends and family. It’s an odd tale because what would be a horrific and scary act for the villagers is almost seen as a time of celebration and catching up. It’s a tale that seems to be about the façade of people and how really you never know what your neighbours and friends might be thinking, could they actually be evil. It chilled me in a way none of the other stories quite did. The theme of identity and society both in the two tales previously mention both merge in ‘The Intoxicated’ in which Jackson uses the setting of a house party to show some undertones of darkness slowly but surely as two guest’s converse.

I think it was actually ‘The Witch’ which is one of the shortest of the bunch (along with ‘Charles’ which is only a page shorter) which I was most shocked and slightly disturbed by and there for I enjoyed the most. However being so short I can’t give too much away and shall simply say is the tale of a boy who whilst entertaining himself on a coach plays i-spy and ends up getting much more than he bargained for. I loved how dark it was and it seemed to encompass the whole feeling of the collection in ten pages, and it’s a great collection I would highly recommend. 9.5/10

This collection has bowled me over far more than reading ‘We Have Always Lived In The Castle’ which I enjoyed but might have read to much hype about. I am going to have to read ‘The Lottery & Other Stories’ without a doubt. I did wonder though, and maybe you can help, will any of the other stories be as good as these ones of have they taken the best ones from the collection? Any other Shirley Jackson books I should be looking out for?

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Filed under Books of 2011, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review, Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson

As it was Halloween during the weekend just past I wanted to read something that was sufficiently spooky or ghostly or chilling. I found what I thought would be the perfect read free with The Times last week as I mentioned. The book in question was Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle which is a book that after seeing wonderful reviews of by Claire, Simon T, and Kim I have been on the hunt for this book along with the fact that Shirley Jackson is supposed to be a mistress of the chilling.

“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.”

Even the start of We Have Always Lived in the Castle is quite a chilling one told by the youngest daughter of the Blackwood family Merricat (from Mary Katherine) as she tells us that in a crumbling old building, we presume a castle, surrounded by woodland live her, her sister and her aging Uncle Julian (who seems to have Alzheimer’s and even believes Merricat is dead) as outcasts from the nearby village. In fact in the opening chapters we see how the village treat her like some kind of leper, they will chide and tease her but they won’t come near her for fear of her family name and past.

I won’t give too much away about the book suffice to say there is a great mystery around her families death and one that as you read along you gain more snippets into until you find out one shocking twist which did actually make me let out a small gasp. The sinister tone of the book is underlying for most of the book and in some ways becomes much darker on the arrival of their cousin Charles who Merricat takes and instant dislike to before things come to a rather dark and dramatic head.

Whilst a chilling tale about… well that would give everything away so lets just leave it at that. Whilst being a chilling tale this is also a book very much about how society can cast out those who are different through gossip and rumour. It also looks at how a child can block out horrific events and cope with huge loss. Merricat is a fascinating and insightful character who copes with bad things by using three magic words, burying household items, sending herself on a winged horse to the moon, talking long walks and talks with her cat and attaching family heirlooms to trees as rituals to ward of evil and possibly block out the past.

Though this is a relatively small book its not one you can read quickly as there is so much to take in both in terms of storyline, back plot and the relationships between the characters as well as the descriptions of all that surround them from the house itself to the wood and village beyond. It also looks at some big subjects as I mentioned and though I personally had a slow and unsure start with it by the end I was gripped and it packed a punch that will stay with me for quite some time. I am glad I gave this a go and am very eager to read much more Shirley Jackson. Where to go next though?

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Filed under Penguin Classics, Review, Shirley Jackson