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on 15 April 2014
In this intriguing novel, teenager Natalie Waite leaves her discontented life in her family home to make a new start at college, where she struggles to connect with her peers, leaving her alienated and deeply lonely. This simple plot is made abundantly complex and unsettling by the questionable sanity of Natalie. From the beginning, it is evident that the line between reality and Natalie's imagination is blurred, and as the narrative progresses it becomes increasingly ambiguous. It is the type of novel in which suspense and a sinister tone are created through incredibly subtle methods, so that it is chilling without there being overtly frightening or gruesome events. It is the type of story which is agonisingly and thought-provokingly inconclusive, so that as you finish reading it you immediately want to discuss it and find out what meanings and conclusions others drew from it. What is impressive about 'Hangsaman' is how completely you become submerged in the psychology of the protagonist - it is expertly crafted so that despite the third person narration, it is impossible to draw a line between the voice of the narrator and the perspective of Natalie. It is a dark and ominous novel, worth reading because of how effectively it infects the reader with an unusual view of the world.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 28 November 2015
This is an extraordinary novel born I suspect of an extraordinary creative intelligence. That is not to say that in any way I am associating the book’s leading character with its author any more than one would identify Hamlet with Shakespeare. As in other of Shirley Jackson’s works we are in that world of the gothic, underpinned with deeply psychological concerns.

There is already an excellent review giving a general account of the content, which says much without giving away anything that might weaken the reader’s experience of the book. I shall not rehearse that here, but confine myself to offering a few personal observations. Throughout we inhabit the mind of the strange Natalie, yet at the same time we are made keenly aware of two workaday worlds – the Waite
home and the College for the affluent – where very much we are in the world of social reality. Both threaten to anchor Natalie down in what to her is dull reality, to prevent her escape into that liberating world of the creative imagination that the final section of the book brings so dramatically to life. Things are never quite that simple and therein lies much of the fascination and compelling challenge of the book. Often it is difficult to be sure how far we are in the world of reality and how far caught up in Natalie’s wilder reaches of consciousness.

Perhaps the book lacks the focused coherence of Jackson’s last novel, “We Have Always Lived in the Castle”, but it still seems to me to be quite remarkable and if nothing else a psychological thriller of the highest order. I suspect that Shirley Jackson is less widely read than she deserves, at least on this side of the Atlantic. This is a pity because she is possessed of a highly distinctive and original talent.
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VINE VOICEon 12 January 2014
Shirley Jackson always had the ability to portray a dark sense of unease in her work. In Hangsaman, that sense of the odd, the baffling and the out of kilter is turned up a notch, becoming if anything even more apparent than in her later, better-known novels such as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The other quality Jackson always possessed in spades was the ability to write beautifully balanced prose and Hangsaman shows the elegance of her writing-style to full effect. In places the book positively purrs like a well-fed cat curled by the fireside, or a well-tuned Rolls on an open road.

Natalie Waite, the central character, is the daughter of a pompous author who isn't quite the great thinker and stylist he would like to believe. Even more problematic for Natalie her mother is terribly neurotic and always haunted by the life she might have lived had marriage and drudgery not intervened. Natalie's brother, very sensibly, keeps his distance from his parents and attempts to do his own thing, quietly and beyond the dead-hand reach of his parents. Natalie is perhaps less fortunate. Her mother ropes her in with all the preparations for her father's parties when various local worthies are invited to dine, and her father, when not entertaining, sets her curious writing tasks so he can check on the progress of her prose. Natalie, one suspects, isn't having the most comfortable of childhoods. Jackson always keeps the main events in Hangsaman slightly opaque but there is a strong suggestion one of her father's friends forces himself on Natalie after one too many drinks. What had been a strange childhood becomes, afterwards, positively a broken and disturbed one.

The book follows Natalie to college where she runs the gauntlet of prettier, spoilt girls forcing their brand of weird humour onto their less attractive, and often more intelligent counterparts. Natalie suffers the strange rituals of female college life; not quite fitting in and yet being clever enough to avoid the worst potential embarrassments. She befriends the wife - scarcely any older than she is - of her English teacher and then finds herself unintentionally aiding his affair with one of her friends (either Vicki or Anne, we never quite know which but both are beautiful, spoilt and trying it on for all they're worth); and then she meets Tony, who becomes a new and very odd friend indeed from which point on Natalie's world - real or imagined - becomes disturbingly off-balance.

Hangsaman is a brilliant but odd book (especially in its last third). There's a sense that 'reality' as it really is (if there is such a thing) and 'reality' as perceived through Natalie's increasingly disturbed consciousness do not quite match up. The prose is gorgeous, the characters fascinating and the situations by turn comic, baffling and disturbing. Quite what it all adds up to at the end of the day, however, is a difficult question to answer. There is something very dark at its heart, but also something profound, elusive and moving. It's different - very different - but it rewards the effort required to untangle its elusive strands. It's probably not a book for everyone but personally, well, I absolutely loved it.
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on 23 August 2015
This is one of the author's best. Her analysis of the main character is both subtle and leaves a great sense of mystery, as does the whole book. At the end one is totally absorbed by Ms Jackson's strange world view and the intriguing characters that appear. For me her most sensitive book.
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on 20 December 2015
A haunting narrative and an engaging, quirky style. In many ways a more satisfying read than The Haunting of Hill House.
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on 15 December 2015
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