Book review: Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin⁠


Still known to millions only as the author of the “The Lottery,” Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) remains curiously absent from the American literary canon. A genius of literary suspense, Jackson plumbed the cultural anxiety of post-war America better than anyone. Now, biographer Ruth Franklin reveals the tumultuous life and inner darkness of the author behind such classics as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Placing Jackson within an American Gothic tradition of Hawthorne and Poe, Franklin demonstrates how her unique contribution to this genre came from her focus on “domestic horror” drawn from an era hostile to women. Based on a wealth of previously undiscovered correspondence and dozens of new interviews, Shirley Jackson, with its exploration of astonishing talent shaped by a damaged childhood and a troubled marriage to literary critic Stanley Hyman, becomes the definitive biography of a generational avatar and an American literary giant.


Incredibly insightful, beautifully told and devastatingly tragic. At 600 pages this one is still too short, Jackson’s talent came in a flourish and was gone all too soon.⁠

I never reach for biographies as not that many people interest me enough, but considering Shirley Jackson is one of my favourite authors and is a major influence to many of the writers I enjoy today, this one felt like a must read.⁠

I adored this. It really shines a light on the kind of woman Jackson was and how her real life influenced her genius.⁠ As with many great creatives, Jackson didn’t have the easiest life. She had a fraught relationship with a mother who never really *got* her daughter, she had a rocky relationship with her husband who felt that sleeping around was his right, and she had a number of mental health issues that became bumps in the road along the way.⁠

Jackson was by no means a perfect person, but despite all her troubles she was a kind soul and held strong positive beliefs in a time where such things weren’t quite so common. ⁠

I loved how this one was set up in chapters of her life that correlated with work she was writing at the time. It was so incredible to see how events in her life ended up reflecting themselves in her work. For example, the journey of how a simple glimpse of an old building from a train window that so repulsed her became the highly renowned piece of horror fiction, The Haunting of Hill House, as we know it today was such a joy to read. ⁠

Once I have completed my read of the rest of Jackson’s work, I think I will have to return to this one. Highly recommended if you’re a fan of Shirley Jackson or love to read about how authors lives influence their art.⁠

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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