We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Opening sentence: “My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood.”
I’m so pleased I finally got round to reading Shirley Jackson. I knew this book was going to be a creepy tale, but what I loved so much about it was the subtle way the suspense built up to a very unsettling conclusion. Unsettling in a good way, you understand.
Published in 1962, this was Shirley Jackson’s final novel before her death in 1965, she was mainly housebound and suffering from agoraphobia and neurosis when she wrote it – themes that are interestingly reflected in the book.
It opens with 18-year-old Mary Katherine (or Merricat as she is referred to by her sister, Constance) introducing herself and setting the complex, ominous scene. Merricat adores her sister but dislikes all other people, is superstitious and has violent fantasies, “I am walking on their bodies, I thought, we are having lunch in the garden and Uncle Julien is wearing his shawl.” She tolerates her Uncle Julien, who lives with Constance and Merricat in their sprawling, isolated home on the edge of the village. As Merricat herself tells us, “Everyone else in my family is dead.” She is referring to her immediate family, as her cousin Charles is very much alive and appears on their doorstep one day. He tries to worm his way into their day-to-day life and Constance’s affections. Merricat does not like this. She does not like this one little bit.
The people of the local village are essentially scared of the Blackwoods due to a now infamous dinner that took place years earlier and tensions rise as they decide to show Merricat and Constance exactly what they think of them, with dramatic consequences.
As well as an intriguing plot line, Merricat is a captivatingly brilliant character that makes this novel spellbinding. She shouldn’t be endearing, but most definitely is.
I’ve now got another Shirley Jackson classic, The Haunting of Hill House, in my TBR stack and can’t wait to get started.