Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson

 Breath of Suspicion cover

Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson was published in 2016 as a Penguin Modern Classic. I’ve read a few of Shirley Jackson’s novels and I must say that I preferred them to the short stories. The collection is like ‘the curate’s egg’ in other words – good in parts.

To begin with I was impressed by how she managed to write a very uncomfortable and unnerving atmosphere, but either I got used to that or the stories just got weaker as the anthology developed. There were a few stories that just came to a stop and left me very unimpressed, but then maybe other readers would have got something out of them. Having said that I liked the last story The Summer People about the local people’s attitude to summer residents in a tourist area.

We did have a bit of a laugh though as I read the blurb excerpt on the back out to Jack.

‘An odd thought crossed her mind: she would pick up the heavy glass ashtray and smash her husband over the head’

I said to Jack – ” I don’t have a heavy glass ashtray”

Jack said – “You’ll just have to use the more traditional rolling pin then”

Well it made us laugh!

This compilation comprises of:

The Possibility of Evil
Louisa, Please Come Home
The Honeymoon of Mrs Smith
The Story We Used to Tell
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Jack the Ripper
The Beautiful Stranger
All She Said Was Yes
What a Thought
The Bus
Family Treasurers
A Visit
The Good Wife
The Man in the Woods
The Summer People

Edinburgh book purchases

We were in Edinburgh earlier in the week, avoiding Princes Street we made straight for Stockbridge, my favourite haunt for second-hand bookshops, but strangely I wasn’t that lucky there. I bought a small copy of

1. The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr. For some reason this one eluded me through my childhood and that of my own boys. Mind you as it was first published in 1968 I would have been deemed to be too old for it back then. It’s a charming story though and I love the illustrations. After reading Judith Kerr’s wartime reminiscences in Bombs Fell on Aunt Dainty and When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, I had to get this one.

2. Tortoise by Candlelight by Nina Bawden is a Virago but was first published in 1963. According to The Observer it’s – ‘An exceptional picture of disorganised family life … imaginative, tender, with a welcome undercurrent of toughness’.

Books Again

Driving across the city to Morninsgide I was amazed to see four Persephone books in the Oxfam bookshop, they almost never appear second-hand. Unfortunately I already had two of them, but I quickly snapped up-

3. Greenery Street by Denis Mackail. I’ve been meaning to read this one for years so it’ll probably jump quite high up the TBR queue.

4. The Runaway by Elizabeth Anna Hart -which I must admit I’ve never even heard of.

I also bought a copy of Shirley Jackson’s We have Always Lived in the Castle, thinking that I had never read this one, but it turned out I had. Oh well, last time I borrowed it from the library so it’s nice to have my own copy. Jack might want to read it at some point in the future.

Have you read any of these ones?

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the Castle cover

I had no plans to read We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, not so soon after reading The Haunting of Hill House anyway, but it almost leapt off a library display at me as I walked in.

Happily I enjoyed this one much more than Hill House. Jackson is known for her quirky characters and relationships and that’s exactly what we have in this book.

The Blackwood family consists of Constance and her younger sister Mary Katherine (Merricat) and their Uncle Julian. They live in a large and grand house where Constance spends her time cooking and Merricat does the food shopping in the nearby village. This is an onerous task as the Blackwoods are more or less outcasts. Uncle Julian is confined to a wheelchair and spends his time looking through his papers.

The family had been much larger and after a disastrous meal there had been only the three survivors. When a member of the extended family turns up things go from bad to worse. Cousin Charles is only interested in the money that he thinks is in a safe. He’s getting in between the two sisters who had until then been devoted to and protective of each other.

It’s a bit like a mystery/fairy tale/horror story rolled into one. A great read.

I’ve just realised that these books probably count as classics and would count towards the Classics Club. What do you think, would you count them as classics?

Guardian links

Spookily – just as I have started reading Shirley Jackson’s books, up pops a biography of her called Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin. You can read a review of it by Sarah Churchwell here.

There’s also an article by Frances Spalding about the Joan Eardley exhibition at Modern Art 2 in Edinburgh – the one we went to a couple of weeks ago, you can read the article here.

There’s also an article about Doris Lessing’s books by Nick Holdstock, and you can read that here.

In this article Nick Holdstock writes that he had been asked to make an inventory of Lessing’s over 4,000 books. He had hoped that Doris Lessing’s books might have notes in the margins, clues to her work maybe, but very few of her books had been written in.

How do you feel about writing in books? I have to admit that I don’t write anything in books, not even my name, although when I was first married I did do that on bookplates that I stuck in my books. I think that was because I was putting both my own name and my married name on them. I had a friend who used to write her name and the date and place that she bought the book on the inside cover. I thought that was quite a good idea but I’ve never done it myself.

I buy a lot of old books and often they were originally gifts, in fact I’m just about to start reading Miss Mole by E.H. Young and I noticed that it was given to Evelyn Heaton-Smith from Rodi – in July 1937. I love that, I want to know who they were, what sort of lives did they have?

Partly I think that it’s because I have so many books that makes me not bother to write even my name in them. I can’t really understand why anyone would want to write notes in books – to themselves. But I do have just one of my dad’s books and he wrote his name in it, it’s one of the very few examples of his handwriting that I have. Mind you people tend not to write anything at all nowadays, everything’s done on computers.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House cover

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson was first published in 1959 and it’s the first book by the author that I’ve read. Lots of bloggers seem to have been reading this book recently and so I thought I would give it a go.

I have to say that I was less than enthralled by the book, but you know what it’s like, maybe it just wasn’t the right time for me to be reading something like this. With everything that’s going on politically at the moment it might be best if I stick to comfort reads for a while!

If you haven’t read the book – it’s about an old house situated in a remote area and the people in the nearest town won’t even admit the place exists. Doctor Montague has been interested in paranormal experiences for years and he arranges for two young women – Eleanor and Theodora – to stay with him at Hill House along with Luke the young owner of the place.

The house has been built strangely, it’s all a bit out of kilter and that goes quite a long way to promoting a strange atmosphere. It wasn’t strange enough for me though. If you’re going to write a ghost story then there’s no point in being niminy-piminy (dare I say spiritless) and restrained about it.

I must admit that I might have been influenced by the fact that I’ve actually lived in a house that was spookier than Hill House, and it didn’t freak me out! Well not much.

I’ll try a couple more of Shirley Jackson’s books sometime though.