Book Review: The Road Through The Wall by Shirley Jackson

The Road Through the WallTitle: The Road Through the Wall
Author: Shirley Jackson
Publisher: Penguin Books
Date: (1948)
Genre: Gothic / Realism / Thriller
Summary: In Pepper Street, an attractive suburban neighbourhood filled with bullies and egotistical bigots, the feelings of the inhabitants are shallow and selfish: what can a neighbour gain from another neighbour, what may be won from a friend? One child stands alone in her goodness: little Caroline Desmond, kind, sweet and gentle, and the pride of her family. But the malice and self-absorption of the people of Pepper Street lead to a terrible event that will destroy the community of which they are so proud. Exposing the murderous cruelty of children, and the blindness and selfishness of adults, Shirley Jackson reveals the ugly truth behind a ‘perfect’ world.

The Road Through the Wall (1948) is a semi-autobiographical novel which draws upon Shirley Jackson’s own experiences growing up in California. It was Jackson’s first novel.

Jackson’s opening line in the novel is beautiful: The weather falls more gently on some places than on others, the world looks down more paternally on some people. I fell in love with Jackson’s strange but wonderful writing style right from the beginning. She takes the mundane and elevates both its pleasures and its horrors.

I didn’t know what to expect from the plot but I found myself thoroughly intrigued by this weird book. The novel focuses on the residents of Pepper Street, which mainly comprises of families with young children, but many of the inhabitants of the street experience alienation if they don’t fit the idea of the ‘perfect’ white Christian middle-class family. The Road Through the Wall opens with Harriet’s mother confronting her daughter about flirtatious letters she’s been writing to the neighbourhood boys. It’s a domestic scene but the domestic sphere is always slightly sinister in literature, a safe space that is never truly safe for those who inhabit it. I found myself holding my breath as Mrs Merriam berated her daughter even though it was Mrs Merriam who invaded Harriet’s privacy. Mrs Merriam’s polite sternness veiled a startling power imbalance as a teenager attempted to rebel against a mother who wanted to shape her into a perfect woman.

Jackson skillfully navigates the horrors of family life, weaving the stories of each family together while maintaining their own separate stories. The adults of the neighbourhood consider themselves honest people but they’re petty and narrow-minded and their children are cruel little monsters. I found that there was a palpable sense of resentment in the book as Jackson reflected back upon her own childhood and the actions and views of her parents.

I really liked the structure of the novel, shifting from one family to another, but the pacing was odd. It almost raced towards the end which makes sense since the novel is less than two hundred pages long but everything seemed to happen too quickly. I also liked the literary references that are littered throughout the novel but I’m a sucker for a bit of intertextuality.


The Road Through the Wall is a wonderful novel and I’d highly recommend reading it. I’m excited to read more of Jackson’s work to see how her writing progressed throughout her career.

(Wordery | Penguin UK | Goodreads)

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