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Highlights in the Charts

Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson

Review by Jenna Tomlinson

As the host month for Halloween, October is a veritable feast of all things synonymous with 'spooky season'. But if horror movies or fright-fest TV isn't your thing, what better way to celebrate the season than to curl up with a good spooky story… or, in fact, a catalogue of them.

Shirley Jackson is a huge name in the field of creepy, gothic horror and her books see a resurgence every year around this time. Celebrated for her tense explorations of the psyche of horror portrayed through everyday life, you won't find lashings of gore in her novels. They're haunting and lingering – intentionally creepy in a way that stays with you like a vague but shudder-inducing nightmare. Dark Tales is no exception to that.

An anthology of short stories, Dark Tales offers the reader seventeen eerie suburban tales, each dipping into the dark underbelly of daily life. A terrifying daily commute-turned-chase; a murderous yet loving wife on honeymoon; a nosy neighbour spilling secrets that ruin lives: all of Jackson's characters are influenced by the everyday and you can see this in her writing. It's what makes it so unnerving. It's also what makes it compelling.

One of my favourite stories was Louisa, Please Come Home. In it, Louisa has left her family home and started a new life under an alias, despite her family's pleas to return. As time passes, she thinks of what she left behind and whether she could go back to them – let them know she's OK and maybe start again. But Jackson poses the question: what if you can't go back? What if, in searching so long for their lost daughter, a family can no longer recognise her even when she's right in front of them? What if so many people have turned up at their door claiming to be her that now their search has become exhaustion? The story unfolds from Louisa's point of view, sharing both her reasons for leaving and for wanting to return. We share her fears and, when she finally finds a way back home, I found myself begging her family to remember her, willing them to accept her back with them.

A further example of Jackson's ability to add unease to the seemingly mundane is her tale Jack the Ripper. Here, Jackson poses the question of the identity of Jack the Ripper and his place in society. What if, instead of a blood hungry butcher ready to pounce at a given moment, he was a kindly stranger, concerned with how young women are returning home at night? It's disquieting in nature – can someone seemingly trustworthy and concerned also be capable of murder? If so, how do we decide whom to trust? It's also particularly unnerving in the current climate of violence towards women and the attitudes or stereotypes many women still face within society.

Dark Tales showcases some of Jackson's best work, and being in short story format makes it ideal for curling up with one final scare before bed.

I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy

Review by Arabella Petts

Rising to fame as a child actress on the television show iCarly, Jennette McCurdy quickly became a household name amongst those with young children, and later on she began her country music career. A beloved character on her TV shows, it wasn’t until last year that the dark reality of her life behind the screen came out.

Following on from the success of her one-woman comedy show entitled I’m Glad My Mom Died, McCurdy details the extent of the abuse she endured at the hands of her mother in her debut book with the same title.

McCurdy grew up with a mother who had always dreamt of being a famous actress. At a young age, McCurdy took on her mother's dream, despite the fact that it wasn’t one that she shared. Over the 320 pages of the book, she recounts the lengths of the emotional and psychological abuse she endured throughout her life. Readers learn harrowing details of her strict and restrictive upbringing, including factors which have had devastating impacts on her mental and physical health. Examples include how her mother introduced her to calorie restriction at the age of eleven and how she monitored her showers until she was aged seventeen.

Whether McCurdy was a core part of your childhood or this is the first you’ve heard of her, this book is undoubtedly worth the read; be sure to do your research first to be aware of any triggers within the content.

A candid account of her life, I’m Glad My Mom Died is a truly illuminating memoir and it’s clear that she is an extremely talented writer. Although this a tough read, it’s an important one that will speak to countless victims of child abuse, and it deserves all the hype it’s been awarded.



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