Let me tell you…I’ve discovered Shirley Jackson

Does everyone have authors that remain permanently on their radar but that they haven’t actually read yet? You know the ones… Book bloggers you follow mention them all the time. You have most of their back catalogue on your ‘to read’ list. You are particularly attuned to mentions of them in the literary media.

For me, one of those authors is Shirley Jackson. I’ve read/heard so much about her that sometimes it’s easy to forget I haven’t read any of her works. But that changed recently.

First published in 2015, Let Me Tell You is a collection of some of Jackson’s previously unpublished short stories, early works, essays and lectures, bookended by a foreword by Ruth Franklin and an afterword by the editors – and her son and daughter – Laurence Hyman and Sarah Hyman Dewitt. It occurred to me while reading that this sort of selection is  the perfect way to enter the world of a writer. There are one or two tales that deeply unsettle in Jackson’s trademark way, stories that shine a light on the perils of being human, humorous meditations on family life and insights into Jackson’s writing process. It’s a book of extreme juxtapositions – as the blurb puts it, from ‘the ordinary to the uncanny, the comic and the horrific’. In many ways, it’s better than a biography or would work as a lovely supporting read.

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Jackson comes through as a woman of warmth, wit, imagination and a shadowy edge that makes her fiction so brilliantly unique. Her words are laugh-out-loud funny and quietly unsettling. Frequently she shines a light into twilit corners that you don’t really want to look into for fear of what you might see, but look you do. You can’t help it. It’s too compelling.

Since the rest of the world are probably streets ahead of me when it comes to reading Jackson’s works, I can only recommend this one as a great addition and I’ll be looking to read more as soon as I can. Where should I start? If anyone has any recommendations, do let me know in the comments.

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2 thoughts on “Let me tell you…I’ve discovered Shirley Jackson

  1. I’m new to Shirley Jackson too! I’ve only read one of her short stories, and ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’, which I liked very much (though the ‘surprise’ isn’t really surprising, I think), perhaps not quite as much as I was anticipating but I had absurdly high expectations. You make her stories sound enticing.

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    • I’m glad it’s not just me! I think ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ is probably top of my list as it’s the one I hear mentioned most often. I’ll see if I spot the twist…I’m famously rubbish with them. The stories were excellent so I’m sure I’ll be reading more of those soon too. She’s just brilliant at cutting things off at the most perfect point so you’re left wanting more but also going ‘ohhhh clever, I’ll be thinking about that for AGES’ as well.

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