So it had been a while since I read something gothic or along the lines of horror. I then thought of Shirley Jackson. I had heard of her now and then but never got around to reading her. Friends did tell me about, “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” and the more famous, “The Haunting of Hill House” but somehow I never got around to reading her. I am amazed and a little sad that I did not read her before. Well, it is never too late. I am going to devour every book written by Ms. Jackson in this year itself.
“The Sundial” is a book which really come to think of it cannot fall under any genre. While reading it, I thought it could be classified as Goth or Horror, but somehow that does not do justice to a book of this range and magnificence. The book’s central character is the Halloran mansion, belonging to the Halloran family. The book starts with the death of the son of the family and the story kicks in from there.
Aunt Fanny has always been the peculiar one in the family. The one, who wanders, gets lost and then eventually returns on her own. This time she returns with a revelation: Her father, the late Mr Halloran appeared to her – a vision and revealed that the world will come to an end and the only people who will survive will be the ones who are in the house. The household is rather calm about it, they believe her and wait for the end to arrive. There is Mr Halloran (Fanny’s brother) and his wife, Mrs. Halloran, their daughter-in-law, Maryjane, their granddaughter Fancy, the help (so to say) Essex and Ms. Ogilvie, who are the principal characters of the house, and more start entering the house, once the news spreads.
The family believes that the new world is just for them. There are a lot of undertones in the book – which I had a ball reading and identifying. The strained relationships sometimes lead to violence. The hatred for one another is apparent and the new world also perhaps cannot do much for them. There is a part in the book which is my most favourite – that said by the young child, Fancy, about the new world. I thought it would be best to make it a part of my review:
“Look. Aunt Fanny keeps saying that there is going to be a lovely world, all green and still and perfect and we are all going to live there and be peaceful and happy. That would be perfectly fine for me, except right here I live in a lovely world, all green and still and perfect, even though no one around here seems to be very peaceful or happy.”
For me the above quote somehow sums up the entire book and yet as a reader, I had to keep turning the pages to know how it ends. The title of the book comes from the huge Sundial which is in the Halloran’s garden and of course indicative of passing time and how time is no longer of essence really, but still is.
The characters created by Shirley Jackson are spooky, brave, fearsome and at the same time, willing to work towards a change for the better. Their lives are fractured to that extent that they want to put their belief in anything. The writing is packed with punch at every single page. My only grouse (a slight one at that) was that some characters did not get enough of the limelight, but that is alright. It is a great book nonetheless – spooky, weird and contemplative as well. Shirley Jackson for now is my favourite writer of this genre and like I said, I will only read more.