Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
True psychological horror. The darkness behind suburban affluence is apparent in Hangsaman, as is the privilege behind seemingly homogenous gated communities. The restraints of family and domesticity, loss of identity and self are threaded throughout.
For fans of Shirley Jackson – some of her short stories make reappearances here. Those familiar with Jackson and know her short stories, biography, and ‘The Birds Nest’ (Lizzy) will see many familiar elements skillfully interwoven in this chilling coming of age story about 17 year old Natalie going off to college; which strangely echoes Bennington, where Jackson’s own husband works —
and where terrible things happen.
Told at times through such a close and perspective the events unfolding around Natalie may be unclear, but key elements of her life (such as a father/husband figure openly carrying out an extramarital relationship with a neighbour at a garden party while her mother is inside the house and that same mother’s own mental health issues) echo the events in Jackson’s personal life.
One ‘complaint’ is that this novel at times feels like three disparate novellas stuck together; with a distinct part one, two, and three, carrying through the same main character through a disconcerting change in settings and surrounding action with each part being able to stand on its own. Honestly, the opening scenes of the garden party are worth reading as an accompaniment to Jackson’s own life, and the continuing adventures of Natalie going to school carry the reader further into psychological distress.
Themes of darkness, seeking self, and identity throughout. TRIGGER WARNING SA.
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