I seem to be on a roll the past few years with my first read of the year being top notch. This year, I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson. It had cropped up a few times in my periphery, on book blogs and the like, and my interest was piqued. My goal for this year is to read more from my library instead of spending a fortune on books (finishing the PhD and only working part time means I’m poor as heck). I downloaded a sample from Amazon–and couldn’t stop reading. As the ebook was checked out of the Edinburgh library system, I just had to buy it. I don’t regret it, either. £5 well spent.
I don’t want to say too much about the events or characters of the book itself. I feel like it is best to go in without knowing much. Roughly, the book is about 18 year old Mary Katherine (‘Merricat’) Blackwood and her sister Constance, who live in the grand old manor house overlooking the village with their senile old uncle Julian. They leave the house as little as possible and have stayed there since the tragic deaths of the rest of their family several years before. The Blackwoods have tried to move on, but the villagers cannot forget.
Part of my reading goals this year is to study each book as a learning exercise in good (or bad) writing as well, so bear with me, folks–each of my reviews will probably have something on this as well. WHALITC (not typing it out in full every time) was fantastic for this exercise. The story is very much told from Mary Katherine’s perspective, and if nothing else is an expert study in how to write in an enthralling POV (point of view). Equally expert is the subtle dropping of clues as the reader begins to piece together what had happened and why the villagers seem to hate the Blackwoods so much. Backstory is explained in drips, and never even actually ‘explained’ so much as ‘mentioned’.
My previous only knowledge of Jackson was through her short story “The Lottery”, which was brilliantly creepy. We Have Always Lived in the Castle was just as creepy, with that small-town New England village vibe done so well (cf. Stephen King; New England is obviously just the best for creepy–having grown up in a few different New England small towns, I can attest to the small-town mentality). Most of the time, though, the village plays as a background to the events in WHALITC. It is ever-present in Merricat’s mind, the dreadful unknown that haunts their periphery and threatens to destroy their peaceful life.
This is a short read, and I read it in a night, unable to put it down. Luckily I finished by about 1am–otherwise I might have kept reading until dawn.