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A look back at the year and the work of Shirley Jackson

Mariella Frostrup looks at the life and work of Shirley Jackson with her biographer, Ruth Franklin, and literary fan Andrew Michael Hurley.

Mariella and her guests look back at the literary year and suggest some last minute Christmas presents.

How does good writing really work? Dr Sarah Dillon dissects a passage by the Nigerian prize winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, from her novel Americanah, to unpick its brilliance.

And the writer Shirley Jackson, who was born one hundred years ago, has been described as 'a genius of literary suspense and psychological horror'. Mariella Frostrup discusses her life and work with her biographer, Ruth Franklin, and literary fan Andrew Michael Hurley.

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28 minutes


  • A look back at the literary year

    Duration: 10:24

  • Close reading: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi

    Duration: 08:05

  • The life and work of Ruth Jackson

    Duration: 08:39

Close reading from Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi

Chapter One

Princeton, in the summer, smelled of nothing, and although Ifemelu liked the tranquil greenness of the many trees, the clean streets and stately homes, the delicately overpriced shops and the quiet abiding air of earned grace, it was this, the lack of a smell, that most appealed to her, perhaps because the other American cities she knew well had all smelled distinctly.  Philadelphia had the musty scent of history.  New Haven smelled of neglect.  Baltimore smelled of brine, and Brooklyn of sun-warmed garbage.  But Princeton had no smell.  She liked taking deep breathes here.  She liked watching the locals who drove with pointed courtesy and parked their latest-model cars outside the organic grocery store on Nassau Street or outside the sushi restaurants or outside the ice cream shop that had fifty different flavours including red pepper or outside the post office where effusive staff bounded out to greet them at the entrance.  She liked the campus, grave with knowledge, the Gothic buildings with their vine-laced walls, and the way everything transformed, in the half-light of night, into a ghostly scene.  She liked, most of all, that in this place of affluent easy, she could pretend to be someone else, someone specially admitted into a hallowed American club, someone adorned with certainty.

But she did not like that she had to go to Trenton to braid her hair. 

Read the introduction to Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin


Role Contributor
Presenter Mariella Frostrup
Interviewed Guest Ruth Franklin
Interviewed Guest Andrew Hurley
Interviewed Guest Sarah Dillon


  • Sun 18 Dec 2016 16:00
  • Thu 22 Dec 2016 15:30

This Week's Book List

This Week's Book List

Read along with us - a list of books discussed in each programme