Wednesday, July 25, 2018

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

To be honest, I was a little hesitant when I picked this up because I wasn’t sure if I would like it. The blurb sounded good but the cover was kind of creepy and I don’t even know if I like Gothic fiction. But when I started this, I quickly found myself hooked and finished the book in no time.

Warning: this book is pretty short so there will be mild spoilers in the review

Mary Katherine (Merricat) is an eighteen year old girl who lives with her uncle Julian and her sister Constance, to whom she is fiercely devoted to. The three of them are outcasts because six years ago, someone put arsenic in the sugar and killed most of the family. While Constance was eventually acquitted of the murders, suspicion still hangs over them, leaving Merricat as the only member of the family who ventures into the village.

Despite that, the three of them are happy. Until cousin Charles comes and Merricat finds that her sister and their household is rapidly changing.

This was a very creepy story, partly because Merricat is the main character and protagonist. If you read on, it’s pretty obvious that Constance is the normal one, full of love of her sister and while scared of the outside world, also longing to rejoin society.

Merricat, on the other hand, is contented with the way things are because she has her loving sister all to herself (and uncle Julian). To her, the outside world is nothing more than an intrusion on what could be a happy life. Which is why although she’s eighteen, Merricat feels like she’s much younger - almost childlike - mentally.

The family dynamics alone would be creepy, but when you add in the village, things go up a notch. There is so much unmasked hostility in the villagers that it’s scary. In the first chapter alone, a grown man corners Merricat and insinuates (almost saying it point blank) that he wants her and her family gone. That interaction was so uncomfortable that I almost stopped reading.

Overall, this was a great book. It’s definitely not something comfortable to read - the tension in this book can be really high at times - but it is addictive and fascinating in its own way. If this is Gothic fiction, I should try reading more of it.

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