Monday, August 01, 2011


The Sundial, Shirley Jackson, Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1958, 245 pp

Shirley Jackson was a writer unlike any other. The Sundial was not my favorite book of hers and yet it has all the qualities that are uniquely hers: suspense, psychological insight, humor and irony.

The Hallorans live in a manor house, outside the local village. Grandfather Halloran, a self-made millionaire, built the house and surrounded the estate completely by a wall. "The first Mr Halloran...was a man who, in the astonishment of finding himself extremely wealthy, could think of nothing better to do with his money that set up his own world."

As the story opens, Richard, son of the first Mr Halloran, is head of the house, though he is an invalid suffering from dementia and confined to a wheelchair. Lionel, Richard's son, has been buried that day, having suffered a fatal tumble down the stairs. Richard's current wife, suspected within the family of having pushed the hapless Lionel down the stairs, is clearly in charge.

But Aunt Fanny, Richard's sister, has had a vision: the world is going to end with her father, the first but dead Mr Halloran, promising to protect the family so that they will be the only survivors and will build a new world.

I found all of this less than exciting as I read the first fifty pages. But soon enough, Shirley Jackson put into motion the conflicting interests, the creepy details and the irony until I was intrigued. Oddly enough, through there is a final twist of the plot in the end, it was not the denouement that made the story. It was the characters.

This is an author who has an almost mystical ability to delve into the psychological quirks of people, whether they be her own children, as in Raising Demons, or the disturbed heroine of The Bird's Nest.

(I found The Sundial at one of my local libraries. It does not appear to be easily found on-line. Possibly used bookstores. Anyone have an tips on how to find this book for purchase?)

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