Friday, October 16, 2015

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Reviewed by Christy H.

Mary Katherine and Constance Blackwood are sisters. They live in a large, secluded house with their disabled uncle Julian. The rest of their family is dead.

This is the plot of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle stripped to its bare bones. It’s a simple story and a short book, just fewer than 200 pages, but with characters and an atmosphere so rich excessive length isn’t necessary. I don’t want to spoil too much but within the first few pages here is what we know: Merricat, as Constance calls her, is 18 years old. She is heading to the village to get supplies – a chore she absolutely despises. But she does it because Connie is agoraphobic and refuses to set foot off the Blackwood property.

The catalyst for Connie’s fear occurred six years prior – when most of her family was poisoned. Connie, 22 at the time, became the primary suspect. She was charged but acquitted due to lack of evidence. She and the remaining Blackwood family, never particularly loved by the villagers, become even bigger outcasts. Since then Connie spends her time cleaning, cooking, and gardening while taking care of Julian and indulging Merricat’s every whim. Still, the Blackwood sisters seem relatively happy in their (mostly) self-imposed exile.

Merricat senses a change, however, and it shows up in the form of their cousin Charles. Charles’ father has died and left him nothing, and he is pretty obviously after the Blackwood sisters’ fortune. Obvious to everyone that is except Connie who becomes dangerously unlike herself. She begins scolding Merricat, something she never did before, as well as talking about the future and the possibility of venturing outside the confines of their property. This change frightens Merricat. She makes it very clear to Charles that he is unwelcome in her eyes but he is not deterred. The events that follow will once again change the Blackwood sisters’ lives, and even those of the villagers, forever.

I love and appreciate that this novel doesn’t go too much into detail. It gives just enough while leaving so much to the reader’s imagination. But it’s also frustrating! I want to know more! I want to know all about the Blackwood family – life before the book started, life after the book ended. Anything! I’m not generally a re-reader of books but this is the second time I’ve read this one. (The first being in high school, mind you.) I love it now even more than I did then, and I can definitely see multiple readings in the future. This is a quick, just-creepy-enough read to get you into the Halloween spirit but it will stick with you long after you throw those jack o’lanterns out.

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