Last week reminded me how much I like talking about books that I like, which I don’t actually do that often. I tend to write more posts about things that I don’t like, which makes it seem like I don’t actually like books, which couldn’t be further from the truth! To rectify this, and also because I’m on vacation and can’t be bothered to come up with super analytic writing, for the next couple weeks I’m just going to tell you about books that I REALLY LIKE. Next up:
We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson.
This is a book that was recommended (and leant) to me by the always-amazing Emily, whose taste in books has not steered me wrong yet (except for that time I was totally overwhelmed by the Satantic Verses because I was 15 and she’s precocious). You may have heard of the author before–she wrote a quite famous short story called The Lottery, which I have had as assigned reading in no less than three classes, and for good reason–it’s excellent. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is in many ways reminiscent of the Lottery, but most of those ways are stylistic and thematic rather than literal.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle focuses on the life of Merricat, her wheelchair-bound uncle Julius, and her sister Constance, who are the last remaining members of the Blackwood family, the rest of whom died in a questionable poisoning accident. They live in a huge, castle-like old mansion far from town in the woods, which puts them in perfect position to be regularly gossiped about by the villagers. In fact, Merricat is the only member of the family who ever leaves the property, and she does so quite reluctantly.
At its heart, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a story about how suspicion and distrust can turn generally harmless people (Merricat is more misunderstood than actually evil, though she’s not exactly innocent either) into the stuff of nightmares. The truth is, despite the fact that Merricat and Constance are both a little strange, they are also both pretty normal girls, who want all the same things everybody else wants: security, acceptance, and to be left alone as much as possible. They don’t get that, though, and the interference of outside parties turns them into exactly the creatures that the urban legends makes them out to be.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle definitely fits into the classification of fiction that I would call ‘gothic,’ though it’s not 100% a fit due to the complete lack of vampires and actual castles or whatever. It’s just a story about a family that’s a little strange, and how that strangeness makes them into apparent monsters.
Also, this book is super short–I literally read it in a (long) night, so there’s no reason at all that you shouldn’t read it as well. You won’t regret it.
“I can’t help it when people are frightened,” says Merricat. “I always want to frighten them more.”