We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (1962)
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We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) was the last published work by Shirley Jackson during her lifetime. Narrated by one of its main characters, Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood, who lives with her sister and uncle on an isolated estate in rural Vermont.
The Blackwoods have been shunned by the neighbors in the nearby village due to a tragedy — possibly murder — that occurred some years earlier. This critically acclaimed novel is considered one of Jackson’s best; and it has been an inspiration to authors that came after who write in the thriller and mystery genres. Here’s a review that appeared upon the book’s publication:
From the original review by Barbara Hodge Hall in the Anniston Star, October, 1962: A black cat lurks on the dust jacket of Shirley Jackson’s chilling novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castle. He is Jonas, Merricat Blackwood’s beloved pet, and while he has no integral part in this tale of dread, his presence might symbolize the spell of witchery that lies over it all.
“I have often thought,” muses Merricat, “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 … 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.”
She’s “Strange 18”
Merricat is 18, but a strange 18, still child-like in habits but a thousand years old in intuition. Her beautiful older sister, Constance, never leaves the grounds of the huge old family home, preferring to hide there keeping house and cooking and taking care of old Uncle Julian.
And the rest of the large family is dead.
This fact is the heart and mystery of the story, for they died all on a single afternoon from the effects of a lethal dose of arsenic hidden in a luncheon sugar bowl.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle on Amazon
The facts come out
Bit by bit, the facts come out. There has been a murder trial, with an acquittal for Constance. Never well liked, the remaining Blackwoods are now shunned by the townspeople and exist in prosperous and eccentric loneliness.
Only when a cousin, Charles, unexpectedly appears on the scene does the curtain against the outside world part a little. Constance seems tempted to peek out, but Merricat hates Charles with a young witch’s vehemence, and in her resentment nearly destroys them all.
This excellent novel is typical of Shirley Jackson’s style, unusual in its way as her terrifying The Haunting of Hill House. You’ll want to read it in one evening — it’s far too exciting to put down.
See also: A review of The Haunting of Hill House
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