First of all let me thank all my fellow book-bloggers! If it wasn’t for you, I would have never found the wonderful world of Shirley Jackson. It was the great reviews of ‘We Have Always Lived in a Castle’ that tempted me. Few months after reading and loving this book I was on vacation in Spain and at a train station in Barcelona I found an English-language bookshelf. From the usual fare of station typical thrillers and Harry Potters the name of Shirley Jackson jumped at me (together with a lovely green cover). I bought the book for extortionate €20 and only later I discovered that it was an US edition, which somehow justifies the price.
The book is a collection of published and unpublished texts assembled and edited by Jackson’s children. It is divided into five parts: short stories, essays, early short stories, humor and family, and lectures on writing. Just the genre span is breathtaking. I did mention a few times before that I am not the biggest fan of short stories, I need more time to become engaged in the story. However I can still appreciate Jackson’s craft in making the ordinary magical, in building tension and oppressive atmosphere, in generating paranoia from an everyday situation. The first group of stories felt familiar in style and universe built, it felt consistent with what I expected of her writing, based on reading ‘We Have Always Lived in a Castle’, but by no means was it repetitive or boring.
The group of early short stories has a different feel to it, they are all marked by war, by men not being home, by women left behind, by returns that are not always happy. It felt a lot more realistic, but also less special. I definitely like more Jackson’s later more magical style.
Unexpectedly, as I am still more of a fiction reader than a non-fiction one, I loved the essays, humor and family and lectures on writing. For me those are the real gems that I discovered in this book. They show the multitude of writing styles Jackson had at her disposal, the unbelievable sensitivity to words and the meanings they carry. Her sharp observations do not spare anyone, her family and herself are definitely not out-of-bounds. What I did not expect was a brilliant sense of humor combined with cutting wit. Her observations on her family, and the children especially, had me laughing out loud multiple times. Her descriptions of the life of a writer, who is a mother of four children, are incredible, sharp, unsparing and irresistibly funny. Her lectures on writing give us a glimpse of her creative process, which she shares with honesty and without patronizing her students. I really wish I could attend one of her lectures.
A truly amazing book by an amazing writer!