Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

Tag: Shirley Jackson

How to Write a Review, Dorothy Parker Style

I’ve just come across a review of We Have Always Lived in the Castle in The Portable Dorothy Parker which I felt like sharing. It is from Esquire, 1962.

There is still sunshine for us. The miracle is wrought by Shirley Jackson, God bless her, as ever unparalleled, more than ever in her latest book, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as leader in the field of beautifully written, quiet, cumulative shudders.

This novel brings back all my faith in terror and death. I can say no higher of it and her.

Madness Lies in the Woods

What a writer. This is the second novel by Shirley Jackson that I have read and both have left me completely chilled. Read this or The Haunting of Hill House if you can get your hands on a copy. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is about two sisters (Merricat and Constance) living alone in their family home. The remaining family members are all dead, in circumstances unexplained. The house lies on the outskirts of a particularly unwelcoming village, bordered by woods. In this dominion the sisters carve out a ritualistic version of family life.

There is a hint of madness throughout the whole book which Jackson never fully explains, of course making the book all the more terrifying. Merricat tells the story with a sinister, matter of fact tone. She frequently mentions that she feels a change coming – in itself not a threat, but in context of the rest if the story it left me dreading what would come next. A lot of the story revolves around the ritualised way the sisters spend their time, described as though they were play acting: Constance was an all-round wife-mother-creator figure, whereas Merricat was a perpetual child-hunter-gatherer-protector. To give you an insight, something that stuck with me was the way Merricat makes a protective ‘charm’ around the house by nailing the treasured possessions of her deceased relatives onto the trees circling it.

I was talking to my Dad about this book and he offered an interesting insight. It was that woods in English and American stories serve a different purpose. In England we like trees; the countryside equals the good life, and woods are synonymous with life and vitality. In American stories woods are often something dark and disturbing, that often hold some ‘otherness’ that threatens everyday life. This is definitely one of those stories.

I can’t say that either of the two Shirley Jackson’s novels I have read would ever be one of my favourite books because they are so disturbing. But I would say she was one of my favourite writers, because she controls the reader like no other author. Enthralling, mysterious, fatal.

Christmas Books

Merry Christmas!

Genuinely Terrified!

The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson

I read this for the most part in broad daylight and I was still really really scared. I’ve never read any Shirley Jackson before, but now I’m anxious to get my hands on more. Firstly, whoever chose this image for the book cover deserves a medal because it completely captures the eerie dappled light and drabness, not to mention the topsy turvy-ness and ominous feeling someone is watching you. Is it the house? Is it something inside? Secondly, it has the best opening lines I’ve read in ages.

I think the book is so scary because Jackson really captures how it feels to be absolutely terrified. The way she writes when something supernatural is happening creates a perfect sense of urgency as the unknown draws ever closer. And afterwards, in the morning, there is a lot of rationalising and nervously making light of it all that further confirms just how scared you were. If I were to re-read this, I’d take a closer look at all the characters again, because there is so much going on psychologically.

Shirley Jackson, you terrified me and I loved it.

Best Book Opening Ever?

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.
Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House