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Fireside Reflections: The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

Updated: May 22, 2021

More?! You want more…

The Supper Club is here to convince readers that the short story is a mighty feast, imbued with complex flavours and we've made an excellent start.

Our first sitting went according to plan (mostly). We're grateful for the fabulous and helpful feedback and suggestions. More time for questions was a common request. Your wish is our command. In future events we'll definitely make more time for you to join in.

For those of you who couldn't join us, come sit by the fire with me…

Nothing else short of a punch in the stomach could have delivered such a hard blow. I felt sick. And then in awe. There are very few stories that elicit so powerful a reaction as does The Lottery (1948). Very few pieces of writing, even.

When we started developing the Supper Club it was first on the list.

I've long been a fan of Henry James and of course his exemplary novella, The Turn of The Screw (1898) is a direct influence. The reader is unsure if the protagonist is haunted or seriously mentally ill and this notion bleeds into my own work and my method of adopting 'personal hauntings'. Therefore coming to Shirley Jackson's work much later, I again recognised a kindred spirit. Jackson's use of the everyday, mundane situations explored in such minute and vivid detail is similar to how I write the world. Horror is in the everyday; the flowers that are 'blossoming profusely' and the unnerving image of neighbours 'humorously and nervously' grinning at one another. One well-chosen word emphasises tone. 'Profusely' changes beautiful spring flowers into conscious beings overstating their importance or working hard to detract from the horror, perhaps.

It then made perfect sense when I discovered Jackson was influenced by James's writing. In her biography – Shirley Jackson - A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin (2016), Ruth Franklin argues that Jackson is part of a line of distinguished American horror writers: Nathanial Hawthorne (1804 – 1864), Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849) and Henry James (1843 – 1916) – categorised as American Gothic. To these writers the short story and novella are integral to their works of horror. Served in small bites, horror becomes terrifying – every word honed to create an atmospheric visual picture, not allowing the reader to look away.

I envy you your first reading of The Lottery. I would then suggest The Possibility of Evil (1965) – a perfectly divine and twisted tale of neighbourly malcontent and then, Afternoon in Linen (1965) – a warning to those who use their children as proverbial 'show ponies'. After that, go for it, you've got 200 to choose from…

… For the novels I suggest chronologically: The Road Through the Wall (1948), Hangsaman (1951), The Bird's Nest (1954), The Sundial (1958), The Haunting of Hill House (1959) and We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962).

Savour each one in all its uniquely shocking, horrific, surreal, odd and intriguing splendour.

Next on the menu, The Heart of a Heartless World, 16 February...

We'll talk with artist, Alodie Fielding who beautifully illustrated all three of my short story collections. In the collection Half Life (2016), we created a Victorian style pamphlet: The Heart of a Heartless World. We'll reveal the process of our fruitful collaboration and the art of illustrating words.

The Short Story Supper Club is hosted by Racontesse and Kensington and Chelsea libraries. For more wonderful KCL events subscribe to their newsletter.

Twitter: @rbkclibraries

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