The Missing Girl, Shirley Jackson

The fear of sounding one-note at this time of year, of too many ten-minute reviews written and too much sleep-torturing cheese eaten and creativity-dulling deep red wine drunk, is high. It brings me to wonder how many of the writers whose work I hadn’t read before this year I have described as a ‘find’, or as ‘my find of the year’. Shirley Jackson falls into this category because she was hiding in plain sight. I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle in October and immediately fell for her. I even owned a collection of her short stories – this one, The Missing Girl – without realising it. Her writing is clean, intense, rich with description and originality, but also she is so very devious: so naughty and sly and she pulls it off and she knows she can because it is hilarious.

She sets her characters up on opposite sides of a divide in much of her work. They are divided by class, wealth, education. Then she examines each with equal attention; no-one and nothing escapes her critical sneers. In the title story, the missing girl in question has disappeared from a summer camp for waspy types, yet as the search for her gets underway, those at the camp struggle to remember her.

In Journey with a Lady, a young boy gets the adventure of his life as he aids a woman thief on a train. In Nightmare a woman out on a work errand believes she is being tracked and sought by everyone in the city.

There was little time for make-believe and monsters in my childhood. There were no hobbits, no intergalactic battles for Luke Skywalker. But I have always felt a creeping excitement for the uncanny, the way it chills you and you pull your shoulders inwards, away from the source of the chill, even though you don’t know what it is.

The Missing Girl is published as a Penguin Modern title; find out more here