Monday, 22 April 2013

We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson

Taking readers deep into a labyrinth of dark neurosis, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a deliciously unsettling novel about a perverse, isolated, and possibly murderous family and the struggle that ensues when a cousin arrives at their estate. This edition features a new introduction by Jonathan Lethem.

A long long time ago on this blog, I reviewed another book by Shirley Jackson called The Haunting of Hill House and absolutely loved it. Since then, I've been meaning to read another Shirley Jackson book but never really got around to it. When I saw this book, with its gorgeous new cover illustrations by Thomas Ott, on display at Powell's, I realized I had to read it. Plus, it's short and as I'm moving cross-country this week, I could probably manage it for the blog.

This is one of those books that I feel like I can't say too much about because all the details unravel as you read the novel. It's told in first person by Mary Catherine Blackwood, a younger daughter of a once respected family that is now blacklisted in the village for unknown reasons at the beginning of the novel. Her headspace is ridiculously well thought out and written, you can hear her voice and feel her thoughts as easily as if she were speaking to you. 

The other characters in the novel are just as intricately drawn. Merricat's older sister Constance is a delight, watching her through Merricat's eyes and trying to distinguish the real woman from the figure her sister sees. It takes you ages to figure out what's going on with Uncle Julian. And their cousin is deliciously dastardly, at least in Merricat's mind.

Castle is the kind of book that you have no idea where it's leading when you're reading and that just adds to its mystery. The climax comes suddenly and the denouement is unexpected. It's the kind of book you just keep thinking about in the days following, still puzzling out little details which you never quite caught. 

It's suspenseful and darkly gothic in the best way. It's also very short at under 150 pages so I definitely recommend it for a bit of a darkly light read.

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