Friday, July 1, 2016

We Have Always Lived In The Castle

I finished reading Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle just a few days ago and I can't get it out of my head. I manage to work the book into almost every conversation I've recently had and have promised to lend the book to a handful of friends. They'll, of course, have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands because I want to look at the words some more.

Jackson is an expert in letting the horror of a situation creep up on you silently in beautiful settings. In case you're unfamiliar with We Have Always Lived in the Castle, the story is simple: two sisters (Constance and Merricat) and a sickly uncle live in their family estate. Except one of the sisters is most likely agoraphobic and the other one is - let's say- unstable. Oh, and the rest of the family was poisoned while eating dinner one night six years before the start of the novel.

The other thing that Jackson is an expert at is letting you know what it feels like to be an outsider. The chant that the villagers taunt Merricat with when she goes for groceries and books every week keeps running through my head.

Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?
Oh no, said Merricat, you'll poison me.
Merricat, said Connie, would you like to go to sleep?
Down in the boneyard ten feet deep!

I don't want to give anything away in this story because I want you to read it and let it unfold. Be prepared. The novel lulls you with it's idyllic setting, delicious foods, abundant garden, and gorgeous house at the same time that it haunts you with it's natural magic, superstition, and sense of doom. By the end of the story my stomach was in knots and I was shaken out of any sense of reverie. 

This is a short novel - only 146 pages long in my edition. Heck, George R. R. Martin's list of characters in The Game of Thrones must be longer than that. You can read this novel easily in one day if you want, but I resisted that temptation because I didn't want the story to end.

After you're finished reading the novel, I encourage you to read a Joyce Carol Oates review in The New York Review of Books from October of 2009 called The Witchcraft of Shirley Jackson. Oates, not surprisingly, gets to the heart of this novel much better than I ever could.  

When you've finished reading the book let's chat over a cup of tea and some delicious blackberries.

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