I have previously received PR products (free review copies) from Penguin.
TW: this piece contains repeated use of the term cr*ppled to refer to a disabled child. I feel it’s important to also note the historical context for the use of this term, as it was not recognised as offensive until the 1970s (Come Along With Me was written in the 1960s), yet I wanted potential readers to be aware.
Today’s review is really exciting, because it’s for #ReadBySpooktober, hosted by Beth @readbybeth and Hannah @horror_han (instagram)! If you’re reading my review because you’re also participating in this great event, let me know by commenting down below and let me know when your review goes live so I can check it out.
This review is also super interesting because I’m actually reviewing an unfinished novel by Shirley Jackson, Come Along With Me. Jackson is best known for her creepy and unnerving short stories, which I have read a few of, and there are more in my edition of Come Along With Me that I can’t wait to read! Jackson passed away while writing the novel, so it was published posthumously, and is only 30 pages long. Her best known short story, The Lottery is also included in my collection, and is an absolute staple of the American short story and I wouldn’t be surprised if any readers who studied in America or who studied American literature have come across it.
Jackson’s work is usually more gothic than horror, and Come Along With Me is no exception. The novel opens with our narrator describing the auction of her furniture, conducted after the death of her husband. The bidders — her friends — remain nameless, as does our narrator. This alone is probably enough to set the gothic scene, but Jackson’s unnerving writing style adds to the element of surreality present throughout the novel. Having sold not only her possessions but her house, our narrator gets on a train (with plenty of money), and goes to a strange new city.
The way Jackson deals with the theme of identity and the significance of names is really interesting in this piece. Our narrator chooses to become nameless, and then takes on a new name and with it, a new identity. The flexibility of identity in this piece was a really interesting way to build up the gothic elements. At one point, after learning of a woman with a disabled child with rooms for rent, our narrator tells another stranger that she herself has a disabled child. Eventually, the narrator selects a new name and with it, a new identity for herself. I love the unreliable narrator trope, and Angela Motorman (as she decides to call herself) is a brilliant example of an unreliable narrator. If she can change her name and identity so easily, is the nameless woman we are introduced to at the start of the novel real, or is she yet another fabricated identity? I think this theme had a lot of potential for further exploration if Jackson had had chance to complete the novel, and I would have been so interested to see where it went!
I mentioned earlier Jackson’s writing style adds to the gothic atmosphere of this novel. Throughout the novel, phrases, words and ideas are repeated, copied from others or simply restated. This repetition gives the book a very claustrophobic feel, keeping the reader stuck in a single moment, trapped with one idea. I really love it when writers use techniques like this in their writing, particularly with genres like the gothic that require a really strong atmosphere. It’s a much more interesting and clever way to create atmosphere than through descriptive phrases in my opinion, but it’s definitely a trickier technique to pull off. Again, I wish I had the full novel in front of me to read, because as hard as this is to pull off in a 30 page piece, it’s even harder to maintain it without losing the effect or becoming dull in a 300 page novel, so I would have loved to see how this style was developed through the rest of the novel.
Something else that the opening of this novel introduces is an element of the supernatural which, of course, is absolutely perfect for a #ReadBySpooktober review! According to our protagonist, she is able to see and communicate with the dead. In the span of the 30 pages, we are able to see her conduct a rather unimpressive seance, where her clients argue over who the message is for, and our protagonist receives messages for herself — or rather, for her previous identity. I don’t often read supernatural books, but I do enjoy them on occasion, particularly when it’s more spiritual supernatural as opposed to mythical creatures.
As you might have gathered from the amount of times I’ve said this in quite a short review, I wish this novel had been finished! The first 30 pages are gripping, unnerving and really cleverly written. Jackson’s reputation as one of the best American gothic short story writers is absolutely deserved, and I can’t wait to dive into the rest of the short stories in this collection. The Summer People, which I wrote an essay on for my BA degree, is the other story aside from The Lottery that I’ve read from it, and that was a great read. I would definitely recommend this to gothic fans!