Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Review: 'Let Me Tell You' by Shirley Jackson

I have a number of female authors which I absolutely love. These female authors all are marked by their strong voices, their, at times mercilessly, honest writing and their understanding of people. Shirley Jackson has been one of those authors since I read her short story 'The Lottery' years ago in school. That's why I was ecstatic to see Let Me Tell You was coming out. Thanks to Netgalley and Random House for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange of an honest review.

Pub. Date: 04/08/2015
Publisher: Random House
From the renowned author of “The Lottery” and The Haunting of Hill House, a spectacular new volume of previously unpublished and uncollected stories, essays, lectures, and letters.  
Shirley Jackson is one of the most important American writers of the last hundred years. Since her death in 1965, her place in the landscape of twentieth-century fiction has grown only more exalted. As we approach the centenary of her birth comes this astonishing compilation of fifty-six pieces—more than forty of which have never been published before. Two of Jackson's children co-edited this volume, culling through the vast archives of their mother's papers at the Library of Congress, selecting only the very best for inclusion. 
Let Me Tell You brings together the deliciously eerie short stories Jackson is best known for, along with frank, inspiring lectures on writing; comic essays about her large, boisterous family; and whimsical drawings. Jackson's landscape here is most frequently domestic: dinner parties and bridge, household budgets and homeward-bound commutes, children's games and neighborly gossip. But this familiar setting is also her most subversive: She wields humor, terror, and the uncanny to explore the real challenges of marriage, parenting, and community—the pressure of social norms, the veins of distrust in love, the constant lack of time and space.  
This collection is the first opportunity to see Shirley Jackson's radically different modes of writing side by side. Together they show her to be a magnificent storyteller, a sharp, sly humorist, and a powerful feminist.
This collection is split up into a number of different sections. Two cover Jackson's stories, both unpublished and early, and they are absolutely brilliant. In her short stories Jackson explores a whole plethora of issues, be they mental, sexual or simply human. Despite having lived in the early part of the 20th century, Jackson's stories feel both timeless and modern. Many of Jackson's characters are female, their stories passionate and intricately dark. Her stories explore marriage, female repression within the household and relationships between women and those closest to them. By writing stories such as 'I Cannot Sing the Old Songs' and 'Still Life with Teapots and Students' Jackson very much feels like a precursor to authors such as Angela Carter or the more recent Gillian Flynn. Her female characters are dark and twisted, both innately so and shaped to be so by their surroundings. These stories read like psychological thrillers, surprisingly insightful but always able to cause a chill to run down your back. 

Where Jackson's short stories are frequently dark and surreal her essays are often funny, although they never lose their thrilling edge. It's almost impossible to think that Jackson wrote with such freedom about her family and life during her own time, when her observations and arguments could so easily be made now. Whether it's her acerbically humorous 'A Garland of Garlands', a commentary on book reviewers' pretensions to art (oh the irony!), or 'Notes on an Unfashionable Novelist', which is the kindest analysis of Samuel Richardson I have ever read, Jackson's essays are suffused with her own, strong voice. Although not all of the essays are equally fascinating or easy to enjoy, the layout of Let Me Tell You makes it very easy to skip and return at will. And return you will because Jackson manages to make her opinion relevant and interesting, something many essayists fail at. 

What Let Me Tell You shows beyond doubt is Jackson's skill at writing, whether she's writing about writing itself or about her myriad of characters. The whole collection is both sophisticated and good fun, striking the perfect balance between the two and introducing the world to the true genius of Shirley Jackson. To many like me she was initially only known for a single story and Let Me Tell You gives her the credit she deserves. Her writing is as much about what's between the lines as about what's actually said. Both self-critical and critical of others, Jackson's stories and essays in this collection hold truths for everyone. The illustrations, by Jackson herself, have a sense of whimsy to them as if it's all not meant to be taken too seriously while reinforcing her critical thinking. 

I give this collection...

4 Universes!

The only reason this collection didn't receive 5 Universes is because not everything is equally gripping, which is the eternal curse of any kind of collection. Shirley Jackon deserves much more recognition than she gets and Let Me Tell You is a right step into that direction. Her short stories are breathtaking and her essays are both funny and insightful. There is something in this collection for everyone and everything in this collection is for someone. I'd recommend this to fans of thrillers and witty writing. 

1 comment:

  1. I love Shirley Jackson as well. I'll have to keep an eye out for this book.