As it was Halloween during the weekend just past I wanted to read something that was sufficiently spooky or ghostly or chilling. I found what I thought would be the perfect read free with The Times last week as I mentioned. The book in question was Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle which is a book that after seeing wonderful reviews of by Claire, Simon T, and Kim I have been on the hunt for this book along with the fact that Shirley Jackson is supposed to be a mistress of the chilling.
“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.”
Even the start of We Have Always Lived in the Castle is quite a chilling one told by the youngest daughter of the Blackwood family Merricat (from Mary Katherine) as she tells us that in a crumbling old building, we presume a castle, surrounded by woodland live her, her sister and her aging Uncle Julian (who seems to have Alzheimer’s and even believes Merricat is dead) as outcasts from the nearby village. In fact in the opening chapters we see how the village treat her like some kind of leper, they will chide and tease her but they won’t come near her for fear of her family name and past.
I won’t give too much away about the book suffice to say there is a great mystery around her families death and one that as you read along you gain more snippets into until you find out one shocking twist which did actually make me let out a small gasp. The sinister tone of the book is underlying for most of the book and in some ways becomes much darker on the arrival of their cousin Charles who Merricat takes and instant dislike to before things come to a rather dark and dramatic head.
Whilst a chilling tale about… well that would give everything away so lets just leave it at that. Whilst being a chilling tale this is also a book very much about how society can cast out those who are different through gossip and rumour. It also looks at how a child can block out horrific events and cope with huge loss. Merricat is a fascinating and insightful character who copes with bad things by using three magic words, burying household items, sending herself on a winged horse to the moon, talking long walks and talks with her cat and attaching family heirlooms to trees as rituals to ward of evil and possibly block out the past.
Though this is a relatively small book its not one you can read quickly as there is so much to take in both in terms of storyline, back plot and the relationships between the characters as well as the descriptions of all that surround them from the house itself to the wood and village beyond. It also looks at some big subjects as I mentioned and though I personally had a slow and unsure start with it by the end I was gripped and it packed a punch that will stay with me for quite some time. I am glad I gave this a go and am very eager to read much more Shirley Jackson. Where to go next though?