Shirley Jackson’s Best Books and Short Stories 📚

Shirley Jackson is one of the most acclaimed authors of the 20th century. Her work has been celebrated for its unique combination of horror, humor, and thoughtful psychological exploration.

Shirley Jackson

(1916-1965), American

From her classic horror novel ‘The Haunting of Hill House‘ to her gothic masterpiece, ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle,’ there are several different books that are often cited as her best. Her stories have captivated readers for decades, inspiring countless works of fiction, film, and television.

The Haunting of Hill House

First published in 1959, ‘The Haunting of Hill House‘ is considered to be one of, if not the best, of Jackson’s works. It tells the story of four people who are invited to a mysterious and isolated house to study its supernatural occurrences. This classic horror novel masterfully blends the themes of suspense, mystery, and dread to create a chilling atmosphere and a gripping narrative.

The main character, Eleanor, has an uneasy relationship with the house from the beginning. As she slowly unravels the dark secrets of Hill House, her emotional state begins to deteriorate.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Shirley Jackson’s 1962 novel ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle‘ is a chilling tale of suspense and mystery featuring the enigmatic Blackwood family. Set in a small New England town, the novel follows the isolated lives of Mary Katherine and Constance Blackwood, two sisters who have been ostracized from their village after the death of the rest of their family. 

While their aunt and cousin attempt to pry them out of their seclusion, Mary Katherine’s special connection with the village graveyard provides a glimpse into a sinister secret that threatens to upset the balance of their fragile existence. ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle‘ is an atmospheric and engrossing exploration of how fear and mystery can shape a community.

“The Lottery”

One of the most iconic works by Shirley Jackson is her short story “The Lottery.” Written in 1948, this story tells the tale of a small rural town that holds an annual lottery drawing each year. It has become a tradition for the villagers to gather around on a summer day to select a “winner,” who will be subjected to a ritual stoning. It is revealed that the ritual has been taking place for generations and is seen as a necessary part of the community. 

The story explores themes of conformity and the dangers of blindly following tradition. It is also considered to be an allegory for human sacrifice and the lengths people will go to in order to maintain control in society. The ending of the story is famously shocking and has been adapted into numerous film and television adaptations over the years. 

“The Lottery” stands as an example of Shirley Jackson’s ability to create dark and thought-provoking stories that explore the darker side of human nature.

The Bird’s Nest

Shirley Jackson’s 1954 novel ‘The Bird’s Nest‘ is a psychological thriller that follows the story of Eliza Winston, a woman who has multiple personality disorder. With the help of her psychiatrist, Dr. Wright, Eliza discovers the truth about her identity and her past.

The Bird’s Nest‘ is a riveting exploration of identity and memory. Jackson skillfully crafts Eliza’s journey as she slowly pieces together her forgotten life and discovers the secrets that haunt her. Along the way, Eliza confronts the hidden truths about her relationships with her family and friends and ultimately comes to terms with her identity.

The Bird’s Nest‘ is an intriguing read that offers readers a compelling look into the mysterious inner workings of the human mind. Jackson’s narrative is both haunting and mesmerizing and provides an immersive experience into the realm of psychology.

The Sundial 

The Sundial‘ is a 1958 horror novel by Shirley Jackson. Set in the fictional town of North Bennington, Vermont, ‘The Sundial‘ follows the Halloran family after the death of Lionel Halloran. 

The family begins to expect that Lionel’s mother, Orianna, is responsible for his death and wants to steal his inheritance— the house (which he is supposed to receive from his father, Richard). Richard’s sister, Fanny, starts to investigate and discovers a sundial in the garden. There, she hears her father’s voice (the man who built the house). The voice urges her that the family needs to stick together as the world is about to end. 

Life Among the Savages

Shirley Jackson’s 1953 memoir, ‘Life Among the Savages‘ is a collection of short stories that chronicles the humorous yet chaotic life of a family living in a rural New England town. The story is told through the eyes of a mother of four and follows the daily struggles of dealing with her sometimes difficult children.

Life Among the Savages‘ paints a vivid picture of the domestic chaos that can ensue when raising a family. From humorous anecdotes about bedtime struggles to more serious topics such as death and grief, Jackson perfectly captures the emotions and humor of being a parent.


Shirley Jackson’s ‘Hangsaman‘ is a psychological thriller novel published in 1951. It tells the story of Natalie Waite, an unhappy college freshman struggling with her mental health. After leaving home for a small New England college, Natalie begins to suffer from terrifying visions and nightmares. As her mental state deteriorates, she begins to act out in increasingly dangerous ways.

Hangsaman‘ is a gripping exploration of psychological distress and the danger of self-harm. Through Natalie’s story, Jackson examines the loneliness of adolescence and the potential risks of leaving home. The novel is filled with suspense and tension as Natalie’s behavior grows increasingly erratic, leading to a thrilling climax.

The novel has been praised for its unique blend of horror and psychological suspense. While it doesn’t feature the same supernatural elements found in some of Jackson’s other works, it still creates an unsettling atmosphere that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the very end.


What is Shirley Jackson known for? 

Shirley Jackson is best known for her horror, and suspense novels, such as ‘The Haunting of Hill House‘ and ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle‘. She is also well known for her short story “The Lottery,” which has become an enduring classic of the genre. 

What genre did Shirley Jackson write in?

Shirley Jackson wrote primarily in the genres of horror, suspense, and dark fantasy. Her writing often contained elements of the supernatural and explored themes of alienation and psychological horror.

What is Shirley Jackson’s best book?

Depending on the reader, most agree that her best book is either ‘The Haunting of Hill House‘ or ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle.’ She is perhaps even better known for her short story ‘The Lottery,’ which is studied in schools around the world. 

Emma Baldwin
About Emma Baldwin
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues on Book Analysis.
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