Sunday, September 18, 2011
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Another RIP read -- and a really good one. In fact, it might be my ideal RIP challenge read:
1. It's very creepy.
2. It's very short (only 146 pages in my edition).
3. It's a book from my TBR shelves that I've been meaning to read since it arrived in February in that Great Big Box of Penguins.
So, this book was a trifecta for a book challenge from the start. Oh, and what is it about, by the way? Well. Published in 1962, this story is told in the first person by Mary Catherine Blackwood, also known as Merricat. She's about eighteen when the story takes place. On the day the story begins, Mary is has to go into town, to the library and to pick up the groceries. Slowly, as she describes her walk, the reader learns about her very odd family.
Merricat lives with her sister and her Uncle Julian in a large mansion, but she's the only one that ever seems to leave. Actually, her older sister Constance hasn't left the property in years; Uncle Julian is in a wheelchair, and he might be suffering from mental problems. Pretty quickly, the reader realizes that almost everyone in the village seems to dislike the Blackwoods. There are whispers and stares, and people pointing at Merricat. At first I felt really sorry for her, and wondered what in the heck happened (though if you read the back cover it gives away more of the history. I really wish I hadn't, so I won't reveal it here). As I kept reading, I realized there was a lot more weirdness going on.
Once again, I don't want to give away too much so I don't spoil it for anyone else. All I will mention is that Shirley Jackson is just masterful at setting the scene and drawing the reader in, and the tension just escalates -- I couldn't put this book down. Jackson is wonderful at revealing just enough to give the reader clues without giving away too much too fast. I will admit that there was one big reveal I figured out pretty quickly -- I've read so many mysteries it's pretty easy for me to pick up on important clues. However, it didn't take away from my enjoyment of the story one bit.
Before this, I'd really only read one other work by Jackson, her famous short story, "The Lottery," which is also creepy, but in a different way. If you haven't read it, you can read it online here. Jackson is well known for showing the darker underside of small-town life, and this book is so worth reading. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is dark and creepy and Gothic, and I loved it. A perfect quick read for the RIP season.