01 March 2015

I want to introduce you to the work of Shirley Jackson, whose novels and short stories transformed my life as both a reader and writer.

The story you have before you, The Lottery, is so much an icon of American 20th century fiction, that one could argue this masterpiece from 1948 has embedded itself directly into our collective unconscious.

I remember first coming upon this story as a young girl and being terrified by it and at the same time in awe of how normal it seemed – at first. The Lottery starts off innocently enough, 

"The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green."

From this seemingly wholesome beginning the reader descends into what is simultaneously a fascinating exploration of the banality of everyday life and the inexorable strange darkness which lurks just underneath, together forming the true psychopathology of every day life. Shirley Jackson brilliantly illuminates both who we want to be seen as and who we really are – it’s that sharpness of vision that makes her so unnerving.

Shirley Jackson’s writing reminds me of English writers such as Iris Murdoch and Angela Carter who manage to probe politics, the psyche and contemporary culture brilliantly, all the while escaping common preconceptions of both gender and genre.

Jackson’s novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, is a magical, almost gothic family romance, populated by characters reminiscent of other American girl heroines namely, Scout Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and Frankie Adams in Carson McCullers' The Member of The Wedding.

Each of these stories features a singularly strong girl – a kind of a tomboy – on the cusp of adulthood struggling with her estrangement from the rest of the world, painfully self-conscious and simultaneously and unrepentantly herself.

Jackson is not an easy writer, her work can be discomfiting but she is also funny, smart and remains all these years later still ahead of the rest of us. When thinking of Jackson’s style and her great gifts for creating characters and rich stories – I feel as though the literary world has spun in a circle and we’re finding ourselves again in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s when there was a rise in science fiction, horror and dystopian narrative much like we’re seeing today.

It is now the early part of the 21st century and we’re celebrating our love of the story across multiple platforms in books, e-books, video games and movies. It is in this world that I wish to introduce you to the work of one of the writers who continues to transform the meaning of reading and writing for me – Shirley Jackson.

- A.M. Homes

  • The Lottery and Other Stories

    Penguin Modern Classics

  • This is the definitive collection of Shirley Jackson's short stories, including 'The Lottery' - one of the most terrifying and iconic stories of the twentieth century, and an influence on writers such as Neil Gaiman and Stephen King.

    'Shirley Jackson's stories are among the most terrifying ever written' Donna Tartt

    In these stories an excellent host finds himself turned out of home by his own guests; a woman spends her wedding day frantically searching for her husband-to-be; and in Shirley Jackson's best-known story, a small farming village comes together for a terrible annual ritual. The creeping unease of lives squandered and the bloody glee of lives lost is chillingly captured in these tales of wasted potential and casual cruelty by a master of the short story.

    Shirley Jackson's chilling tales have the power to unsettle and terrify unlike any other. She was born in California in 1916. When her short story The Lottery was first published in The New Yorker in 1948, readers were so horrified they sent her hate mail; it has since become one of the greatest American stories of all time. Her first novel, The Road Through the Wall, was published in the same year and was followed by five more: Hangsaman, The Bird's Nest, The Sundial, The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, widely seen as her masterpiece. Shirley Jackson died in her sleep at the age of 48.

    'An amazing writer ... if you haven't read any of her short stories ... you have missed out on something marvellous' Neil Gaiman

    'Her stories are stunning, timeless - as relevant and terrifying now as when they were first published ... 'The Lottery' is so much an icon in the history of the American short story that one could argue it has moved from the canon of American twentieth-century fiction directly into the American psyche, our collective unconscious' A. M. Homes

  • Buy the book
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle

    Penguin Modern Classics

  • Shirley Jackson's masterpiece: the deliciously dark and funny story of Merricat, tomboy teenager, beloved sister - and possible lunatic.

    'Her greatest book ... at once whimsical and harrowing, a miniaturist's charmingly detailed fantasy sketched inside a mausoleum ... Through depths and depths and bloodwarm depths we fall, until the surface is only an eerie gleam high above, nearly forgotten; and the deeper we sink, the deeper we want to go' Donna Tartt, author of The Goldfinch

    Living in the Blackwood family home with only her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian for company, Merricat just wants to preserve their delicate way of life. But ever since Constance was acquitted of murdering the rest of the family, the world isn't leaving the Blackwoods alone. And when Cousin Charles arrives, armed with overtures of friendship and a desperate need to get into the safe, Merricat must do everything in her power to protect the remaining family.

    This Penguin edition includes an afterword by the acclaimed novelist Joyce Carol Oates. All Shirley Jackson's other novels, plus The Lottery and Other Stories, are available in Penguin Modern Classics.

    Shirley Jackson was born in California in 1916. When her short story The Lotterywas first published in The New Yorker in 1948, readers were so horrified they sent her hate mail; it has since become one of the most iconic American stories of all time. Her first novel, The Road Through the Wall, was published in the same year and was followed by five more: Hangsaman, The Bird's Nest, The Sundial,The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, widely seen as her masterpiece. In addition to her dark, brilliant novels, she wrote lightly fictionalized magazine pieces about family life with her four children and her husband, the critic Stanley Edgar Hyman. Shirley Jackson died in her sleep in 1965 at the age of 48.

    'The world of Shirley Jackson is eerie and unforgettable ... She is a true master' A. M. Homes

    'A masterpiece of Gothic suspense' Joyce Carol Oates

    'If you haven't read We Have Always Lived in the Castle ... you have missed out on something marvellous' Neil Gaiman

  • Buy the book

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