Wednesday, August 07, 2013

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Ooh, Shirley Jackson. This is some creepy shiz. SO, my experience with Shirley Jackson's work, up until recently, was confined to my reading of "The Lottery" (the one story) in high school and college. Psst, you can read an online version here. Given, it was a GREAT short story, but it was high time I tackled more of her work. 

I couldn't really settle into anything on Saturday a couple of weeks back, so I grabbed this one at random off my nightstand, and away we went! 

Mary Katherine Blackwood (Merricat) lives in a big ole house with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. There used to be more of the Blackwood family--seven in total--until someone put arsenic in the sugar bowl and took out the rest. Constance stood trial for the murders but was acquitted. Now she cares for Merricat and Julian. One day a long lost cousin shows up, and all hell breaks loose. 

Told from Merricat's perspective, this is one ominous read. While Merricat is said to be 18 years old, she has an immature way about her, and constantly engages in magical, maybe occulty, things. She buries her relatives' possessions and random household items to protect the house. She chooses specific words for their power and protective nature. She's just different, y'all. 

It's quickly apparent that the town in this little book is also a character. An antagonist, in fact. Since the murders, what was already an odd family is even odder. Merricat is heckled whenever she makes her bi-weekly trips into town for groceries and errands, and while some of their former family friends still visit for tea, the remaining Blackwoods always feel as if they're on display and being judged.  

Just wow. Jackson has a really great way of making the abnormal feel everyday. Eerily normal--until something goes wrong and everything starts to spiral downward. I was totally sucked into this little book by the ease and loveliness of Jackson's writing, and the pervasive sense of dread that she creates. These are wonderfully odd characters in a heart-wrenching tale. 

I read this one in a few hours. I could not put it down!

I asked for more Shirley Jackson recommendations on Twitter, and we had a lively discussion. The Haunting of Hill House is a given since it's probably her most famous work. I'm also keen to read a full collection of her short stories, as well as her memoirs since it sounds like Jackson had plenty of her own demons. 

The green cover at the top of this post is what my book looks like, and while it's wonderfully atmospheric, it seems like it doesn't gel as well with the story as some of the other editions. 

Have you read any of Shirley Jackson's work? What did you think? Can you think of any other authors that remind you of her that you'd like to recommend? I need mooore!

Pub. Date: originally, 1962; more recently, October 2006
Publisher: Penguin
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780143039976
Source: Purchased by moi. 

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