Hangsaman – Shirley Jackson

I was first introduced to Shirley Jackson this year, when I read The Lottery And Other Stories in April I think it was. It was a very odd experience. I had already heard a lot about Jackson’s writing, both her short stories and her novels, so I had expectations going in and when I read The Lottery And Other Stories I thought – well, some of the stories are very eery and fantastic, others just blew past me without making an impression on me. But after finishing the collection, the more time that went by, I realized I was thinking about the stories (some of them) every day. I caught myself thinking about them several times a day, and this continued on for at least two months. It really lingered, and I don’t know if I’ve ever quite experienced such a long lingering feeling from something I’ve read. So, after some time I was dead set on getting her novels and making my way through them, one at a time. The first attempt – Hangsaman.

I’m not sure how to even describe this story. Let’s start with the protagonist, Natalie Waite. First of all – it’s a rare thing for me (if it’s ever happened before I can’t remember) to read a book with a protagonist of the same name as you. The name wasn’t the only thing we shared, which is why I connected to some parts of this (I’d say the first half, mostly) quite a bit. Natalie has a very odd inner world, she’s sometimes kind of hyper-aware of herself, and she’s kind of in between the world of her imagination and the real world, the lines of the worlds sort of smudges. It’s hard to explain without detailing the content but these inner thought patterns, her odd ways of being, is what I related to and what I was impressed with Jackson for getting to the core of. I’ve never really read anything that deals with this, that I used to do a lot when I was a kid, like think about the objectivity of the being – oh man, I can’t even discuss this without getting all philosophical. But basically, some of the things I did as a child, the way I thought and viewed the world, I could see this in Natalie and I was both happy and impressed to see someone put these feelings into words. Sorry if nothing in this passage makes sense.

The way Natalie acts around others sort of clashes with her inside world, I feel like she often acted in strange and unpredictable ways. I haven’t quite figured out what all of it means. I think that’s actually a main point with Jackson’s writing and all of Hangsaman – I don’t understand everything that is happening, there are details and layers and not everything is straight forward. Which is why I think it lingers. Everything isn’t solved. It’s creeping up on you, an eerie feeling slowly surrounding you. I felt like I was rather immersed in Hangsaman the first 3/4, and then the last part I started to lose my way in the woods and it took until the very end, similarly to Natalie, for me to find my way out. I still don’t understand Tony, who was she, what was she, what was her intent? I don’t even know.

So hm, how do I sum this up? I really liked the first half, I enjoyed most of the third and last bit as well, sometimes I felt lost but I found my way out, and the end was great. And Natalie was great. But it’s weird, odd, confusing – and I wonder what I would catch reading this a second time. Time will tell.


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