We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Author: Shirley Jackson
Genres/ subjects: classics, mystery, historical
Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp.
“We eat the year away. We eat the spring and the summer and the fall. We wait for something to grow and then we eat it.”
This is a wonderfully atmospheric short story, the feeling that something is just a little ‘off’ permeates throughout the first half of the story. Jackson’s writing is finely crafted, dropping hints as the story goes and using both repetition and unworldly imagery to draw you into Merricat’s head.
The mystery of what has happened to the Blackwood family and why the villagers are so hateful towards Mary Katherine and Constance kept me turning the pages well past bedtime.
The two main characters are wonderfully written, their action and motivations are slowly unravelled and despite their previous bad deeds, you can’t help but sympathise with Constance when confronted by the villagers or root for Merricat in her conflict with cousin Charles.
The later chapters, set after the fire, are a wonderfully messy mix of despair and joy, and the ending somehow manages to be at once a tragedy and a happy ending.