Why You Should Read Shirley Jackson: Her Best Novels

Why You Should Read Shirley Jackson: Her Best Novels

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Are you on the hunt for a writer who can weave words into a mesmerizing dance, leaving you both enchanted and slightly unsettled? Well, look no further than Shirley Jackson. If you haven’t yet delved into her world of literary marvels, you’re in for an exhilarating ride. In this article, we’re going to uncover why Shirley Jackson’s works are an absolute must-read, transcending time with their perplexing charm and burst of creativity.

Table of Contents

Who Was Shirley Jackson?

Shirley Jackson was born in 1916, and at first glance, she might have appeared as a typical mid-20th century housewife, tucked away in the idyllic countryside of Vermont. Yet, beneath that unassuming exterior lay a mind that was as intricate as the stories she spun.

A mother of four and a wife to literary critic Stanley Edgar Hyman, Jackson’s life seemed intertwined with the very fabric of domesticity. But don’t be fooled; her tales were anything but ordinary.

Jackson’s journey into the literary world started with her college years, where she began writing fiction and poetry. Her debut novel, “The Road Through the Wall,” laid the foundation for her unique style – a blend of psychological exploration and unsettling familiarity.

However, it was her short story, “The Lottery,” published in 1948 in The New Yorker, that catapulted her into the spotlight.

This tale of a seemingly quaint village ritual, with a twist that chills the bones, showcased Jackson’s ability to manipulate words like a maestro conducts an orchestra. The story’s reception was a roller coaster, with readers both captivated and horrified by its implications. This marked the beginning of her exploration into the darker corners of the human psyche.

The Haunting of Hill House,” published in 1959, solidified her reputation as a master of psychological horror. With this novel, she didn’t just write a story; she created an experience, an atmosphere of creeping unease that nestled itself into the reader’s mind long after the last page was turned. It was as if she understood the labyrinthine twists of fear and anxiety that reside within us all.

Jackson’s unique style wasn’t limited to horror alone. She dabbled in domestic fiction, exploring the complexities of family dynamics in novels like “We Have Always Lived in the Castle.” Her characters were often women struggling against societal norms, reflecting the author’s own battles with conformity.

Sadly, Shirley Jackson’s life was cut short in 1965 at the age of 48. While her physical presence may have left this world, her legacy thrives. Her works have become timeless classics, with a lasting impact on literature, horror, and the exploration of the human psyche.

The Enigmatic Allure of Shirley Jackson’s Prose

Imagine words on a page transforming into a portal, transporting you to a realm where the ordinary turns extraordinary and the mundane becomes mysterious. Shirley Jackson was a sorceress of language, casting spells with her pen.

Her stories often revolve around seemingly typical characters in everyday settings, but as you flip through the pages, you start feeling the ground beneath you shift. This enigmatic quality is what sets her apart – the ability to turn the familiar into the unfamiliar, making you question the very reality you thought you knew.

The Dance of Perplexity and Burstiness

Perplexity, that delightful feeling of being wonderfully confused, is one of the hallmarks of Jackson’s writing. Her narratives are akin to intricate puzzles, each piece carefully placed to both entice and bewilder.

You might find yourself pausing mid-page, not because you’re lost, but because you’re savouring the delightful whirlwind of thoughts her words have ignited. Burstiness, on the other hand, is her knack for springing the unexpected on you. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, she throws a curveball, leaving your literary senses tingling.

RELATED: The 12 Scariest Books Of All Time

A Dip Into Dark Psychology

Shirley Jackson wasn’t afraid to delve into the depths of the human psyche, exploring the shadowy corners that most would shy away from. Her stories often explore themes of isolation, identity, and the darker aspects of human nature.

It’s like a mirror held up to society’s face, reflecting back the unease that often simmers beneath the surface of our lives. This exploration of the human condition is what gives her works a timeless relevance, making you ponder not only the story but your own existence.

The Art of Subtle Horror

If horror to you means blood-soaked scenes and jump scares, get ready for a paradigm shift. Jackson’s horror is subtle yet haunting – it’s the chill that crawls up your spine when you realize the true nature of a seemingly innocuous situation.

She’s a master at creating an atmosphere of unease, where the real terror lies in the psychological realm. Reading her works is like peering through a keyhole into a world where the uncanny reigns supreme.

Most Notable Shirley Jackson’s Novels

The Haunting of Hill House (1959)

Prepare to be ensnared in a labyrinth of psychological tension as you step into the eerie corridors of Hill House. This novel is a masterpiece of horror, a symphony of subtle scares that leaves you questioning the very fabric of reality.

Jackson’s craftsmanship in building an atmosphere of unease is unparalleled, making every creak of the floor and whisper of the wind resonate with spine-tingling significance.

The Haunting of Hill House Cover

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)

In this tale, Jackson weaves a web of mystery around the lives of the Blackwood family. As you delve deeper into the lives of the two surviving sisters, Merricat and Constance, you’ll find yourself entangled in a narrative that dances on the border of the eerie and the tragic.

The delicate balance between isolation and societal judgment is a central theme, beautifully captured in Jackson’s haunting prose.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle Cover

The Sundial (1958)

In a departure from her more well-known works, The Sundial delves into the realm of the supernatural with a touch of dark humour. The impending apocalypse takes a backseat to the psychological unravelling of the characters as they grapple with their newfound sense of purpose. Jackson’s exploration of the human psyche shines brightly in this thought-provoking narrative.

The Sundial Cover

Hangsaman (1951)

This novel, often overshadowed by her more famous works, is a hidden gem. It delves into the internal turmoil of Natalie Waite, a young woman trying to find her place in a world that seems determined to undermine her. Jackson’s ability to dissect the complexities of the human mind is on full display, painting a haunting portrait of the struggles of identity and existence.

Hangsaman Cover

The Bird’s Nest (1954)

Intricately delving into the realm of dissociative identity disorder, this novel presents a protagonist fractured into multiple personalities. Elizabeth, the central character, battles her own mind as she navigates a world that constantly shifts around her. Jackson’s exploration of mental health is both empathetic and disconcerting, reminding us of the fragility of the human psyche.

The Bird's Nest Cover

Shirley Jackson’s novels are not just stories; they are journeys into the depths of the human experience, infused with a sense of the uncanny that lingers long after the final page. With each work, she challenges conventions, blurs the lines between reality and illusion, and invites readers to explore the darker corners of their own minds.

These novels are not simply read; they are experienced, savoured, and contemplated, leaving an indelible mark on the literary landscape.


In a literary landscape filled with voices, Shirley Jackson’s stands out as a beacon of uniqueness. Her writing is a blend of perplexity and burstiness, a journey into the enigmatic and unexpected. It’s a plunge into the recesses of human psychology and a brush with a kind of horror that lingers long after you’ve closed the book.

So, if you’re ready to expand your literary horizons and embrace the disconcertingly beautiful, pick up one of Shirley Jackson’s works. But beware, once you open the door to her world, there’s no turning back.


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