It doesn’t tie any shoes

Madeleine Schwartz

  • Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin
    Liveright, 585 pp, £25.00, October 2016, ISBN 978 0 87140 313 1
  • Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson
    Penguin, 208 pp, £9.99, October 2016, ISBN 978 0 241 29542 7

‘I don’t think I like reality very much,’ Shirley Jackson used to say in her lectures on writing. It was an idea she returned to often. ‘Just being a writer of fiction gives you an absolutely unassailable protection against reality; nothing is ever seen clearly or starkly, but always through a thin veil of words.’ By the time she gave such talks in the 1950s and early 1960s, she had reached national fame as the author of ‘The Lottery’, a 1948 New Yorker short story about an imagined ritual stoning in a New England village that led hundreds to cancel their subscriptions in outrage. Her novels We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House, with their flat and measured descriptions of troubled minds, led to her reputation as a ‘spine-chiller’. She had established herself, in the words of one reviewer, as ‘a kind of Virginia Werewoolf among the séance-fiction writers’.

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