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.
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nokia no more: Microsoft drops once-ubiquitous mobile name – in favour of its Lumia brand
- 2 Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery: 'I'm living a more fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
- 3 Jimmy Carr's controversial Oscar Pistorius joke goes too far at the Q Awards
- 4 Australian café owner sparks debate after saying 'No' to having unruly children on premises
- 5 NHS staff banned from drinking tea or coffee on the job because it looks like they're not working hard enough
MOBO Awards 2014: Jess Glynne hits back at 'ridiculous' criticism of nominated white artists
American Horror Story season 4, Fox - review: Silly, sensational and sensitive
MOBO Awards 2014: Sam Smith sweeps the board with four gongs
The Apprentice, episode 3 - review: Lord Sugar hacks away at the deadwood with double elimination
Channel 5 likely to push Big Brother to the margins of its schedule
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters