Tuesday 8 December 2015

Blast From the Past: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Originally published in 1962 by The Viking Press

My edition: the Penguin Modern Classics paperback! I’d never seen this PMC cover until it arrived.

What's it about?
Living in the Blackwood family home with only her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian for company, Merricat just wants to preserve their delicate way of life. But ever since Constance was acquitted of murdering the rest of the family, the world isn’t leaving the Blackwoods alone. And when Cousin Charles arrives, armed with overtures of friendship and a desperate need to get into the safe, Merricat must do everything in her power to protect the remaining family.

In her final, greatest novel, Shirley Jackson draws us into a dark, unsettling world of family rivalries, suspense and exquisite black comedy.

Why now?
This time of year screams for dark, creepy novels and We Have Always Lives in the Castle also boasts of being nice and short which is what I need this month!

The verdict:
It’s hard to hear even a word about Shirley Jackson’s work without a flood of praise and fangirling coming afterwards so I was nervous about diving into We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but now I’ll be joining the legions of fangirls.

I went into this novel knowing very little about the plot or Jackson’s style and themes and it was a bit of a surprise really! This little novel is intense, unsettling and relentlessly compelling. The first half is our narrator Merricat teasing, taunting and leaving drips of information behind her which creates a delicious sense of mystery? Why do the villagers hate the Blackwoods? What happened to the family? Did she do it?

All of these questions were embedded in interactions between sisters Merricat and Constance that were super unnerving and just plain weird actually. The atmosphere of We Have Always Lived in the Castle is electric. It’s tense and cloying and impossible to pull yourself out of. And then Cousin Charles arrives and disrupts the solitary, routine life of the sisters and suddenly everything gets darker, more sinister and the sense of impending doom intensifies. I hated Charles violently. It was so obvious to the reader, and to Merricat, what he was after and it was almost painful to watch him manipulate Constance.

It all came to a dramatic, startling head and I couldn’t turn the pages faster. It almost had a fairytale feel to it, something that would have become the thing of myth and legend in the village. The way Jackson mixes genre is so impressive: mystery, thriller, Gothic, fairytale – even though I’ve only read one of her books, I get the feeling she could have written anything.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is dark, twisted and utterly brilliant. I loved it and can't recommend it enough. I now want to read everything Shirley Jackson wrote.  

Still not convinced?
- It’s said to be Shirley Jackson’s masterpiece.
- At only 146 pages it’s a quick read; I devoured it in two sittings. 


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