Day 1063: The 1951 Club! Hangsaman

Cover for HangsamanI picked Hangsaman to read for the 1951 Club. Unfortunately, although I have read other books published in 1951, I haven’t done so recently enough to have reviewed them on this blog.

Hangsaman is a very strange book about a young woman and her first months away at college. Although it does a masterful job of exploring her consciousness, that is unusual territory. The first scenes of the novel show her interacting with her parents while she imagines being questioned by a detective about her father’s murder.

And no wonder. Her father is an arrogant and pompous editor, who, under the guise of helping her with her writing, daily subjects her to alternating insults and compliments and tries to enlist her sympathies against her mother. Her mother also tries that, apparently with more reason.

1951 Club logoIn these circumstances, Natalie is delighted to go off to college for a fresh start. But things don’t go well there. The students are cliquish and cruel. The one girl who seems to be seeking her out as a friend turns out to be mentally unstable. And two other girls use her to torment a young university wife whose husband is having an affair with one of them.

Natalie finally makes a very strange friend, and at that point the novel goes off into murky territory, where I didn’t quite understand what was going on. When I read later that the novel was inspired by the actual disappearance of a Bennington student—the girl’s college where Jackson’s husband was employed—I understood it a little better. If you have read Shirley by Susan Scarf Merrell, it will ring some bells.

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19 thoughts on “Day 1063: The 1951 Club! Hangsaman

  1. Cathy746books April 10, 2017 / 2:30 pm

    I have this one but didn’t realise it was a 1951 Club contender. I read Truman Capote’s The Grass Harp but might try and get this one read too.

  2. whatmeread April 10, 2017 / 5:54 pm

    I’m sure that’s a good one, too.

  3. Naomi April 11, 2017 / 11:30 am

    This is the first I’ve seen of this book for the 1951 club!

    • whatmeread April 11, 2017 / 12:04 pm

      Some bloggers pick a year every year, and you read books published in that year. This is the third time I’ve participated. I guess to know about it you have to be following one of them. I follow Stuck in a Book, and he always posts something about it several weeks before it starts. I think the last one was the 1936 Club, but I’m bad with numbers, so I could have got that wrong. And then the one before that was in the 20’s.

    • whatmeread April 11, 2017 / 1:19 pm

      I think I misread this message before. Of course you know about this club.

      • Naomi April 12, 2017 / 6:48 am

        Haha. I guess I just meant that out of all the books I’ve seen around for 1951 so far this week, this is the first time I’ve seen your pick. Even the Canadian one I picked is quite well known – Tempest-Tost by Robertson Davies.
        I do love the idea of reading a bunch of books all published in the same year!

      • whatmeread April 12, 2017 / 11:02 am

        Yes, I figured that out. I need to read more carefully. I have been curious for years about Robertson Davies, but I haven’t yet read one of his.

      • Naomi April 12, 2017 / 5:39 pm

        Oh good, I thought I was the only one!

  4. TJ @ MyBookStrings April 11, 2017 / 11:54 am

    I agree, this is a strange book! It wasn’t for me, though I have enjoyed other book by Shirley Jackson. I was confused as well!

    • whatmeread April 11, 2017 / 12:05 pm

      The ending didn’t make any sense to me until I read that about the disappearance, and then I felt it was ambiguous.

  5. Bev@My Reader's Block April 13, 2017 / 2:37 pm

    Shirley Jackson is hit and miss for me. I loved “The Lottery” and The Haunting of Hill House, but I’m one of the few (among people I know) who didn’t enjoy We Have Always Lived in the Castle. This one sounds intriguing, but I also wonder if I’d have a similar response to it as to Castle. I may just have to find out.

    Thanks for stopping by my 1951 posts!

    • whatmeread April 14, 2017 / 11:16 am

      Oh, I liked We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but I liked this one less.

  6. Jonathan April 15, 2017 / 3:24 am

    I read this one as well for the 1951 Club. It is a bit confusing near the end but it was very interesting. I didn’t find the ambiguity annoying in this case – sometimes I do.

    • whatmeread April 15, 2017 / 11:25 am

      I don’t think the ambiguity bothered me so much as not having a clue what was going on at the end. Once I figured it out, sort of, I could live with the ambiguity, in fact, think it made it more interesting.

  7. Simon T April 17, 2017 / 3:25 pm

    Isn’t this a weird book? So confusing at the end – but somehow still very good. Not my favourite of hers by any means, but intriguing in showing the development of her writing.

  8. whatmeread April 17, 2017 / 7:13 pm

    Yes, it’s certainly well written and shows insight into an unusual mind (and also the 50’s social life), but it is definitely not my favorite. I have enjoyed reading your reviews for the week, though, and have put some of them on my own reading list.

    • whatmeread April 29, 2017 / 11:09 am

      If you send the link to Simon of Stuck in a Book, he’ll add it to his 1951 summary page.

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