Forgotten authors No.19: Shirley Jackson
Sunday 11 January 2009
If her name rings a bell, it might be because Shirley Jackson is finally receiving the critical attention she has so long deserved.
Born in San Francisco in 1916, Jackson created a sensation by publishing a story in The New Yorker that generated a phenomenal amount of heated correspondence. Her brief tale "The Lottery" touched a nerve and demanded an explanation where none had been provided. It concerned a rural town in which a lottery takes place, the nature of which is best left undescribed for the sake of new readers. Having touched off a public furore, she nevertheless found an audience drawn to her style of calm, precise emotional detachment.
Jackson tapped into the concerns of middle class America in the 1950s. Her novel Lizzie dealt with a woman suffering from multiple-personality disorder. The Haunting of Hill House, a novel regarded by many as one of the most powerful psychological ghost stories ever written and later made into a cult film, also explores female insecurities in greater depth than most novels of the period.
"No live organism," Jackson writes, "can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality." Thus the delicate Eleanor faces loneliness, madness, depression and imprisonment with a sense of inner stillness that turns her into a heroine.
Jackson's best book was her last. We Have Always Lived in the Castle was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 10 best novels of 1962. In it, two sisters and an ancient uncle huddle in psychotic solitude, and the girls create a set of rules for survival that make the hero of Iain Banks's The Wasp Factory seem entirely normal.
I've lost count of how many times this heartbreaking book has been announced as a film, but no one has yet managed to recreate its twisted world. It is perhaps the ultimate Gothic novel, and is finally being marketed as such instead of being allowed to languish in obscurity.
Some 30 years after Jackson's early death at the age of 48, a box of previously unseen stories was found in a barn behind her house; they were published in the US to great acclaim.
Arts & Ents blogs
Owen Howells is a DJ/producer who grew up in Australia but was born in the UK. He came back to the U...
Fancy seeing a play about serial killers? How about inviting a funeral director into your home for a...
There are a good many moments in the second episode of this psychological thriller that deserve refl...
Liam Gallagher slams Daft Punk: 'I could have written Get Lucky in an hour'
Rocky Horror star Tim Curry 'suffers major stroke'
Archaeologists uncover nearly 5,000 cave paintings in Burgos, Mexico
Lord of the Sings: Sir Christopher Lee, 91, to release heavy metal album
After 61 films, including The Hangover Part III, Heather Graham admits she still likes to boogie
- 1 What, let gays get married? We must be bonkers
- 2 Rocky Horror star Tim Curry 'suffers major stroke'
- 3 Exclusive: How MI5 blackmails British Muslims
- 4 Lord of the Sings: Sir Christopher Lee, 91, to release heavy metal album
- 5 Exclusive: Woolwich killings suspect Michael Adebolajo was inspired by cleric banned from UK after urging followers to behead enemies of Islam
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Nook is donating eReaders to volunteers at high-need schools and participating in exclusive events throughout the campaign.
Get the latest on The Evening Standard's campaign to get London's children reading.
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.