The Bird’s Nest – Shirley Jackson

classics, Pschological horror

To the next person who reads this book:

The Bird’s Nest is one of Jackson’s earlier works. It came before The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

The Bird’s Nest introduces us first to Elizabeth Richmond, who lives with her outspoken Aunt, works at a desk in a museum and, otherwise leads an uneventful life.

But the more I think of her, the more interesting she becomes: she at once comes across as lacking in some way – of self, or personality. She leads a quiet life of routine and habit, diligently going to work every day, then coming home to Aunt Morgen, where she eats dinner with Aunt Morgen and never interrupts Aunt Morgen to speak.

Elizabeth also appears to have no friends. It’s rather like she is living a life that is ‘good’ and ‘well-behaved’ – seeming not to have any wants or desires (or if she ever did, they have long been forgotten or supressed). Her life, much like her work at the museum, seems very methodical and vacant.

Elizabeth’s quiet existence is disrupted by the affliction of terrible headaches and backaches, along with mysterious notes being left on her desk at work, and the following of some unexplained events. The headaches, after reaching a point of severity  prompt a visit to a doctor, which then eventuates in Elizabeth’s seeing a psychologist, where we find that Elizabeth’s body hosts three other personalities…

The awakening of these personalities seem at first terrifying, particularly in the way that Betsy keeps asking if she can open her eyes.

The revealing of each new personality tells us something more of Elizabeth’s life – and how she came to exist in the way that she does.

Jackson is especially clever in the way that she shows how these different personalities interact, not just with one another, but also with Aunt Morgen and Doctor Wright (Elizabeth’s doctor), which I especially enjoyed.

Also interesting was the question of identity, and who we are. In the war between the personalities inside Elizabeth’s body, we are made to think about what actually makes us who we are inside, and who we would be, if say, another personality suddenly gained consciousness over our lives while we remained unconscious to this fact.

Would who we are, or who we were, be dead? Do we cease to be? For me, this was an interesting question. It is a strange thought to imagine my body walking around with someone else living, acting, thinking, and being on my behalf.


5 thoughts on “The Bird’s Nest – Shirley Jackson

    1. She is definitely one of my favourites! Especially if you like Donna Tartt, I think Shirley Jackson was one of her influences. I’ll be posting reviews for her other books The Haunting of Hill House, Hangsaman and We Have Always Lived in the Castle soon!

      Liked by 1 person

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