We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson

Creeeepy.  I read The Haunting of Hill House and liked it a lot, but when I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, I thought, “Oh, yes, there’s the lady who wrote ‘The Lottery’.”  There are some of the same themes here, particularly towards the end, that mob mentality and the fear of things being different.  My review’s going to contain spoilers, because I don’t know how to talk about the book without any spoilers at all.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is about two sisters, Merricat and Constance, who live with their uncle Julian, the three of them all that survived an arsenic poisoning that killed the rest of their family.  Constance, in her twenties at the time of the event, fell under suspicion, and twelve-year-old Merricat went into an orphanage while Constance was on trial.  Now Merricat is a slightly odd eighteen-year-old dedicated to creating spells and protections to keep strangers away from her family.

I have no idea why I took against this book with such a passion when I read it for the first time in England.  It’s really good!  I love how the first half of the book builds towards the revelation of what happened to make Constance and Merricat and Uncle Julian such outsiders.  Shirley Jackson does a great job of writing Merricat, her efforts to keep her family safe from the outside world, how she needs Constance, particularly, to stay with her, how she dreams of them both getting away from everything (“going to the moon”).

Shirley Jackson can build an atmosphere, I have to say. In this as well as in The Haunting of Hill House (and her short stories), there’s a pervasive feeling of wrongness about what’s going on.  You can’t always put your finger on what’s wrong exactly, and when you can you can’t explain why it’s so ominous, but it always makes you a smidge uncomfortable.  I loved the fixation on Constance’s cooking, for instance, in the first parts of the book.  It’s a mundane detail except that there’s such an emphasis on it, and then every time it’s mentioned you start feeling jittery.

England Jenny was a cranky face.  We Have Always Lived in the Castle is great.  Thanks to my lovely blog commenters for repeatedly insisting that it was worth a read and was even better than The Haunting of Hill House.  I am not sure I agree, because I like haunted house stories, but it is definitely very very good.

Other people’s thoughts: Hey Lady! Whatcha Reading?, things mean a lot, Asylum, A Striped Armchair, Bart’s Bookshelf, Book Addiction, So Many Books, BooksPlease, The Bookling, Save Ophelia, Bending Bookshelf, book-a-holic, Bibliolatry, Bold. Blue. Adventure, Booknotes by Lisa, books i done read, Books and Cooks

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