Thoughts: Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson

jacksonLife Among the Savages

Shirley Jackson

241 pages

Originally published in 1943

Source: Bought it

Our house is old, and noisy, and full. When we moved into it we had two children and about five thousand books; I expect that when we finally overflow and move out again we will have perhaps twenty children and easily half a million books . . .


When it comes to Shirley Jackson, who hasn’t read or heard of her classic short story, “The Lottery”, or her classic thriller The Haunting of Hill House? With Life Among the Savages, Jackson takes a drastic turn in subject and chronicles various bits and pieces of her life as a mother and wife. Whether its’ dealing with misbehaving kids, imaginary friends, spats with the neighbors, or buying an old house in a new town, readers are bound to laugh. Life Among the Savages is an excellent snapshot of life in the

Life Among the Savages has been sitting on my shelves unread for years. So it was great that it ended up being my Classics Spin pick. Shirley Jackson takes the mundane and makes it hilarious. There were moments when I laughed so hard, I almost cried. In the book, there’s the writer, her husband, their three kids, and fantastic cat, Ninki. Some of the things that Jackson describes in the book, reminds readers how long ago this was written (1940s), like the time when Jackson’s in labor and the nurse insists on putting down her occupation as housewife instead of writer. But other instances are universal like taking more than one child shopping on a busy day.

I really enjoyed this book but it’s a DNF (did not finish) because as hilarious as it was, I grew tired of the craziness of Jackson’s life. There’s almost no rest between all of the crazy antics of her kids and husband, which is what I needed. I may come back to this book one day but I doubt it. Life Among the Savages is a good book but it wasn’t enough to keep me reading.

Have you ever read this book before?


About Vasilly

Mother, daughter, sister, college student, bookworm, lover of chocolate and coffee.
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23 Responses to Thoughts: Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson

  1. Interesting… I’ve been wondering about this book. Have read several of Jackson’s stories and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I think I’ll reach for The Haunting of Hill House next instead.

  2. olduvai says:

    This book is on my too-long tbr list so it was interesting to read that her family’s antics can be too much. I think I’ll still pick it up – some day that is!

  3. This sounds like something I’d enjoy – sorry to see you grew weary of it.

  4. Interesting that you found it so funny and yet still weren’t motivated to finish it. Sounds like maybe it needed more of a story arc to pull the reader through.

  5. Jenny says:

    I had this exact experience reading Life among the Savages! It was entertaining but I got tired of it. I think it’s because she’s presenting such a tirelessly anticky view of her life, and I knew from knowing things about her that she was depressed and agoraphobic and having a really hard time. And it just comes off a little forced at times. She is funny, but I like it best when she’s being funny and morbid in her fiction.

    • Vasilly says:

      Jenny, I had no idea that she was having such a hard time! I wish she had been more honest about it but it was the 1940s.

    • softdrink says:

      I had heard the same…that she wasn’t the happiest of people. So I was surprised to read that you thought it was funny!

      • Vasilly says:

        OMG, Jill. It was hilarious! The incident about the bat. . .God, I almost peed on myself. I think the kids might have been the problem. There’s five kids over here but I wouldn’t dare baby-sit Jackson’s three if they were young again. Ack!

  6. I had read also (like Jenny) that she had this awful life, and stories like The Lottery were how it got expressed. I didn’t know, however, that she had any “normal” books, although this one sounds far from “normal” even though it’s not a story!

  7. Mel says:

    I’ve always wanted to read Woman in Black and Haunting of Hill House, but after watching the Woman in Black movie, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to read either books. Thanks for sharing this one, however I doubt I will pick this up either 😉

  8. zibilee says:

    I have had this one on my shelves for years, like you, but haven’t read it yet. I need some funny in my life right now, so it seems like this might be the time for it. I need to go off and check and see if it is still where I left it. I’m glad that it had you giggling!! 🙂

  9. Belle Wong says:

    I read this book back when I was in my 20s. I remember I found it quite funny and amusing. But I think there was a spark that was missing, the kind of spark that I’ve always found in Erma Bombeck’s books.

  10. boardinginmyforties says:

    I love The Lottery and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. This book sounds like such a departure from her usual stuff which is always dark and twisted. I’d be interested to at least skim through it to see what I think.

  11. I like crazy so this books might be just right for me. I haven’t read anything by her except for The Lottery and I always forget that story is hers!

  12. Athira says:

    I definitely need to read a Shirley Jackson book. I loved her Lottery and have many of her works in my wishlist. I think I’ll read this one but will remember to read in sprints so that I don’t tire of it soon. Thanks for you review and sharing your thoughts!

  13. bookworm says:

    That is interesting that although you enjoyed this one, it wound up being a DNF. I haven’t read Shirley Jackson yet, but I’ve heard of her work. Great post as usual 🙂

  14. aartichapati says:

    I am sad to hear this isn’t that great (or that it is exhaustingly repetitive and probably not really true). Having recently finished We Have Always Lived in the Castle, I highly recommend that one – it was really, really good and so creepy!

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  16. Care says:

    I think it is OK to DNF, especially if you consider it as it really is – a collection of essays she first published separately in magazines. Read them one at a time, rather than all at once and you can then enjoy them for their sweet humor. AND THEN read her bio and you can really sense an unsettling underlying current of tragedy. LOVE Shirley Jackson!!

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  18. Teepee12 says:

    I have loved this book since it was first published. I think I’ve owned 20 copies over the years because I tend to lend the books to people then have to replace it (and Raising Demons, the sequel). She was a very under-appreciated writer in her life. Stephen King is a big fan of hers, as are most modern horror and science fiction and fantasy writers. She wasn’t just funny. She was also brilliant. She died very young and I always wonder what great stuff she would have written had she lived longer.

  19. Teepee12 says:

    Just one more comment: You are making a lot of suppositions about Shirley Jackson that are unwarranted. She in fact lived very happily with her husband and four children in Bennington, Vermont. If you had read her short stories, you would recognize how she took things that happened in her daily life, things her kids did and said and actually twisted them a little bit and turned them into horror stories. A couple of times, she wrote the same story twice, once as a humorous piece and another as a horror story. Same story, different style. The same story also appears in a third form as part of Raising Demons. It’s a lesson in the writer’s craft, how to take everyday incidents and turn them into something else. If you could tell about a writer’s life by the kind of fiction he or she writes, there would be a lot of mystery writers/murderers stalking our streets and witch/warlock/vampire writers too. And perhaps a few from other planets. What one writes and what one lives can and are usually entirely separate unless someone is writing autobiographically, (e.g.,Thomas Wolfe).

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