Friday, October 16, 2009

We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson

I became so enthralled with the setting of this book. The very atmosphere of it, I think, held me captive and I loved the relationship between the sisters, Merricat and Constance. It is very simple and felt familiar somehow. At times, my mind kept drifting off to think of those black & white classic mystery films that it reminded me of watching. This lends to a nice supernatural feel instead of a chilling ghostly haunting.
Merricat is a simple girl with small desires of not being treated badly or bothered by others. She worries about her reclusive sister, Constance, and imagines herself into being nicer to her old Uncle Julian. She aims to keep her familiar lifestyle together and out of the realms of being broken up by those who feel well-intentioned to help or so they think. So Merricat finds ways to protect what she holds dear.
This novel follows what happens at the Blackwood Estate after a tragic arsenic poisoning takes place and kills off the family members who lived there, at least all but three of them, Uncle Julian, Constance, and Merricat. Although Constance has been acquitted from committing the poisonous crime, they live alone, keeping to themselves which allows the nearby villagers to make their own assumptions. Each of the three deal with this tragedy differently which lends to the mysterious atmosphere. As time continues, their cousin Charles enters into the household and his own underlying intentions come into play. Anger overwhelms Merricat and her sense of reality becomes overshadowed by it. The motives of each character are never fully explained but this also adds to the creepiness of the inability each character faces as they are unable to live a so-called normal life.
The only drawback is that there is no clear resolution. Otherwise, it's a timely read for this atmospheric part of the year. Just right for the R.I.P IV Challenge.
I feel the pure gem of this book is the simplistically taut writing style. Here are a few of my favorite passages: (Spoilers, perhaps?)

First, a perfect beginning:

"My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. 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, but I have had to be content with what I had. 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." (pg. 1)

"Today my winged horse is coming and I am carrying you off to the moon and on the moon we will eat rose petals."
"Some rose petals are poisonous."(pg. 86)

"Like children hunting for shells, or two old ladies going through dead leaves looking for pennies, we shuffled along the kitchen floor with our feet, turning over broken trash to find things which were still whole, and useful." (pg. 177)

160 pages, Originally published 1962, Penguin Classics 1984/2006, My rating: 3.5 stars


Amanda said...

I'm really looking forward to this one!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

This sounds wonderful for this time of year. Great review; thanks so much

L said...

Oooo, this one sounds like a really good spooky read. I love books like this. Great review! And I love the name Merricat.

Anonymous said...

One of my absolute favorites <3

great review!

Julie said...

Amanda - I'm looking forward to hearing about when you read this one. I love to know what you think.

Diane - Thanks for reading my review. This is a perfect book to read in Oct.

Lula - Thanks and I agree, I love the name Merricat.

saveophelia - I'm so glad to hear you say this - Thanks. I peeked around at your blog and I love what you have there so I subscribed. Great stuff!

hamilcar barca said...

i like the excerpts you've selected. they're quite "Plathian".

the phrase "the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length... is intriguing. it makes it sound like she has six (or four) fingers.

Julie said...

Hamlicar - So true. I do love "Plathian" excerpts. I can't help it, they just stick out to me. Much like this poem from Eavan Boland:

I'll singe

a page of
for these my sisters.

—From Witching

Misty said...

Just wanted to let you know I quoted you in my review. Hope you don't mind. :)